Nokia has been trying to reinvent itself with its high-end Ozo VR camera, and it’s opening a major avenue for expansion by bringing the product to China. Today Nokia announced that the 360-degree camera, which has been targeted as a professional turnkey solution with ready-to-go stitching and production pipelines in place, will be for sale in China in September of this year. The Ozo is currently available in the US and Europe.
As part of the deal, Nokia also announced a new price point. The camera originally sold for $60,000, with the company offering $15,000 discounts to individuals and early adopters. That discounted rate is now the new normal, with the Ozo permanently retailing for $45,000 in the US (€40,000 in Europe), with equivalent pricing expected for the China launch.
Both moves are telling. When I spoke with Nokia Technologies president Ramzi Haidamus earlier this year, he painted Ozo as a professional production tool similar to the Arri Alexa or RED’s line of cameras, and saw professional camera rental houses as potentially a big market for the product. But while Nokia isn’t releasing any sales figures, Ozo head of presence capture Guido Voltolina says that sales have been better than anticipated, particularly to individuals thanks to that discounted early adopter program. Now that Ozo production has scaled up, it can afford to make the cuts permanent — and expand into China.
"Next year I can see the China VR market on par, if not bigger, than North America"
"VR in China is beyond exploding," Voltolina says. "Investments, new companies offering content creation; all aspects of the ecosystem are going crazy on VR, to the point that in the early part of next year I can see the China VR market on par, if not bigger, than North America." It’s similar to what’s expected of the traditional movie industry in China — a juggernaut that is expected to overtake annual US box office next year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nokia’s new plans also include a partnership with one of the Chinese companies that are fueling that film expansion. LeEco, the Chinese company that recently purchased Vizio and whose movie studio LeVision is producing the Matt Damon film The Great Wall, will be distributing Ozo content through its LeVR division.
Voltolina sees the expansion as a huge opportunity for Nokia because in China there has been a greater focus on democratizing access to the hardware and experiences. "PlayStation VR is really focusing on China as one of its key markets from the very beginning. VR cafes are popping up like mushrooms," he says. "It's all about making the technology available, even to ones that cannot afford the whole system." It’s an approach that’s been slow to catch on in the US, with a company called Awesome Rocketship announcing the first North American initiative for standalone VR stations in movie theaters lobbies and malls less than two weeks ago.
But partnerships and audience alone aren’t enough to make a product take off or help people develop compelling content — even in virtual reality. Disney recently announced that it would be using Ozo cameras for many of its 360-degree VR initiatives, but thus far they’ve been been bland promotional tools, taking audiences into a movie junket roundtable (spoiler alert from those of us that cover junkets: most of the time they’re boring and generic), and the red carpet arrivals of The Jungle Book (second spoiler alert: nothing’s less exciting than watching famous people walk to a movie you can’t see). But none of that negates the fact that more content creation tools in the marketplace are a good thing — and the aggressive expansion into China may be exactly what Nokia needs to establish the Ozo before similarly targeted competitors come along.