Imagine this: You are sitting in your living room and watching Christopher Nolan’s award winning war drama, Dunkirk. Now, what if, in addition to the visual spectacle of seeing the evacuation of people from the town of Dunkirk during World War II, you can actually smell the smoke engulfing the town due to the incessant exchange of shelling between the German and the Allied forces.
Now, this may very well be possible if you were to catch the film, which released in 2017, in a 4DX theatre that provides moviegoers an immersive cinematic experience through a blend of motion, scent, smoke and other special effects. But wouldn’t it be cool if you could enjoy the same experience in your own living room, without having to beat the heat and traffic to get to a multiplex?
If Zee Entertainment Enterprises' ambitious plans were to commercially materialise that may well be possible one day. On October 22, the company announced that it had secured a U.S. patent for a unique technology platform to satisfy all the five senses of viewers. The platform is something that Zee has been discreetly working on for the past four-five years at its technology lab in Silicon Valley, U.S.
“Built on robust and state of the art technologies like 3D Audio, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), digital scent, holograms, and touch, this platform aims to transform the viewers’ home environment by providing exceptional immersive experience,” Zee said in a statement.
“Apart from offering a unique viewing experience in delivering extraordinary entertainment and information-based content, the platform will also enable the viewers to touch, feel, smell, and experience products, with a seamless transaction (e-commerce) ecosystem.”
The time, effort and resources that have gone into developing this technology is a part of Zee’s endeavour to future-proof itself, says Amit Goenka, chief executive officer of Z5 Global, the entity which encompasses of all of Zee’s new and technology-led initiatives, including Zee5, its recently launched Over-the-Top (OTT) video streaming platform.
“Technology and media companies, as we know them, are disappearing,” Goenka tells Fortune India. “We thought that we need to do something radically different to remain relevant even four to six years down the line and chose to focus on enhancing the content viewing experience for users on-the-go and in their homes by appealing to all five senses. This also has multiple use cases across sectors, such as entertainment, education, gaming, and e-commerce.”
Goenka admits that the commercial viability of this new technology remains to be seen and can only be assesses once it is launched commercially. The commercially viable prototype of this technology will be ready in the next 12 months and will be launched via new experience centres that will set up around the world, starting with the U.S. first, before eventually making its way to India.
Zee is also contemplating what physical form factor this technology can take. One of the logical expectations is that it may be embedded in a set-top box-like equipment, which users could connect to their TVs or smartphones. But, Zee is certain that it doesn’t want to become a hardware company at any point, Goenka says. “We will work with technology partners, content partners, hardware partners and jointly figure out what are the use cases for this technology that they see. We can then licence it out to them,” Goenka says.
Logically, Zee is looking to adapt its vast library of content—spanning across various genres and languages—to work with this technology and offer a complete sensory experience to viewers. In other the global markets, it will look to tie up with local broadcasters and production houses to convert their content.
This is just the beginning for Zee as far as experimentation with new technologies is concerned. Goenka says that the Zee Media Lab in Silicon Valley is already working on more such innovations, details of which he doesn’t want to reveal at this stage.
But, Goenka is clear that these innovations need to strong bandwidth – that can be offered by technologies like 5G and FTTH (fiber-to-the-home) – to work seamlessly.
Interestingly, one of the biggest proponents of new telecom technology in India is Reliance Jio. Zee and Jio were in a tiff recently over the price for content on Jio TV. The two have buried the hatchet and Zee’s content is back on Jio TV. So does this pave the way for a larger partnership comprising technology-led innovations such as what Zee has just secured a patent for?
“Absolutely. We will start discussion with all stakeholders soon. We can't do this alone,” Goenka says.