IMAX is leaving the virtual reality (VR) business.
The company notified shareholders with a SEC filing Thursday that it will close down its remaining three VR centers, and write off “certain VR content investments.”
A company spokesperson confirmed the planned closures and shared the following statement with Variety: “With the launch of the IMAX VR centre pilot program our intention was to test a variety of different concepts and locations to determine which approaches work well. After a trial period with VR centres in multiplexes, we have decided to conclude the IMAX VR centre pilot program and close the remaining three locations in Q1 2019.”
The company previously closed four of its seven VR centers, including most recently its sole European outpost in Manchester. It still operates three Imax VR locations in Los Angeles, Bangkok, and Toronto.
Imax launched Imax VR in early 2017 with a flagship location adjacent to the Grove mall in Los Angeles. At the time, the expansion into VR was billed as an experiment, and a way for Imax to determine whether VR could be the next big thing for the company. Its original strategy called for the launch of roughly a dozen such VR centers around the world, which were supposed to be used to fine-tune the model for possible further expansion.
Imax also set up a $50 million VR content fund, and got CAA, China Media Capital, and the Raine Group to co-produce VR experiences. The idea for these content investments was to give Imax VR centers access to exclusive windows for tentpole VR titles. One of the titles co-financed by the fund was “Justice League, An Imax VR Exclusive,” which debuted in Imax VR centers in November.
In the end, Imax opened seven centers, but quickly realized that its take on location-based VR wasn’t going to be an immediate money-maker. “The consumer reaction was extremely positive, but the numbers just weren’t there,” admitted Imax CEO Richard Gelford during an earnings call earlier this year.
The company went on to close a New York VR center in June, and shut down its Shanghai VR center in early July. In October, it shuttered another New York location, and executives told investors that they didn’t anticipate any new investments in VR in 2019. Separately, Imax and Google also ended their joint development of a cinematic VR camera at the end of last year.
VR experiences are great, but maybe the IMAX concept was too intimidating for the masses.