Periscape VR Experience Centers, a location-based VR startup, opened its first location in New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport earlier this month. “Many airports are becoming some of the most successful shopping malls in the world,” Founder and CEO Lynn Rosenthal explained during my visit to Periscape’s new location, “We have a captive audience looking for something to do.” Seventy thousand people a day pass through Terminal 4, which mostly handles international flights. Many of travelers will wait in the terminal for hours. Average dwell time in Terminal 4 is three to four hours. And, unlike a normal mall, Terminal 4 is booming eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. When I visited at 9 in the morning Thursday, all twelve stations in Periscape’s VR towers were in use. This makes JFK’s Terminal 4 just about the perfect location for VR.
Periscape VR Station in Terminal 4 of New York’s JFK airport ready for boarding.
The VR Towers (don’t call them kiosks) are beautifully designed, with large video monitors that preview titles, promote sponsors and content, and allow others to watch what users are doing in the virtual world. Rosenthal explained that the video exposure is important to brands and the company will eventually sell some of its visual real estate to others marketers seeking to reach the 21 M people who will walk past Periscape annually. The VR towers are designed to be operated without an attendant, though at JFK there are two Periscape brand ambassadors to provide customer service. It’s easy to get into VR using the simple self-serve interface Periscape worked with VRsenal to develop, which works in nine languages. It dispenses hygienic cleaning wipes and even has a built-in locker where you can lock up your carry-ons while immersed in VR.
Periscape now offers users seven titles, including the Blu, Job Simulator, Longbow and Fruit Ninja, Notes on Blindness, MasterpieceVR and is planning to add more weekly. Rosenthal says the ideal number of titles is twelve to eighteen.
Periscape is nestled among high end retail, duty free shops, bars and restaurants in Terminal 4.
Periscape is located in the middle of the retail lounge, adjacent to luxury retailers like Brooks Brothers, Coach, Juicy Couture, and Michael Kors. Brock Myers, Senior Manager, Commercial, for JFK International Air Terminal, told me Periscape has been an immediate hit. “It’s really enhanced the overall customer experience we strive to create.” The company is already in discussions with JFK to install VR Towers in additional areas of Terminal 4.
VR is showing up more public places for a variety of reasons. While the price and complexity of PC-based VR with the Vive or Rift is a deterrent to home users, it is a small investment for a business. Even though these VRcades are relatively inexpensive to open, they still must bear the cost of real estate, labor and marketing, and the vexing problem of utilization (not enough seats Saturday, too many seats the rest of the week). Putting Periscape in an airport terminal with long dwell times solves all of these problems. They are open 18 hours a day at JFK right now (a normal retail location can only do 12 hours on a Saturday). Attendants are optional, and will not be needed in many locations. The Periscape stations are completely self-serve.
The average dwell time for international passengers in . terminal 4 is four hours.
Rosenthal told me utilization is over 60%. Let’s do the math: 6 stations, running 18 hours a day, at one dollar a minute gives a max gross potential of $1,080 per machine per day, or $6,480 for six stations. In a week, the max potential is $45,360. That’s $2,358,720 per year. Even if utilization fell to half of what Rosenthal reported for first month, this would still be the surest, more profitable LBVR venture we’ve seen. Rosenthal was so sure the venture would succeed herself that she’s financed the entire company out of her own pocket. This has enabled her to travel light and work fast. Periscape already has exclusive arrangements with 229 airports, including Paris, Dubai, Shanghai, Singapore, and Atlanta.
Rosenthal left CBS in the mid-90s and started consulting with celebrities and other clients that needed to brand themselves (and sometime re-brand themselves). This led to work with major retail brands who have suffered as retail has continued its freefall. Rosenthal explained that retail is down 15% year over year for the last several years, except in airports. As someone who spends a lot of time in airports, Rosenthal knew first hand how little there is to do there, except shop. At the same time, as the result of another consulting engagement, she was exposed to VR. Rosenthal immediately understood this could solve problems shared across industries. When she started to drill down into the idea, she got a lot of affirmation. HP, which has an interest both supporting location-based VR companies and getting people to use its WindowsMR headset, immediately offered its support, providing hardware, expertise, and introductions to become Periscape’s first industry sponsor. “Consulting is not scalable,” Rosenthal told me. “VR has no limits.” She hastened to add she is passionate about the essence of the LBVR business: exposing people to techn0logy which will play an increasingly large role in their lives. “This is how it begins,” she said.
Periscape is tiny, with only four full-time staff, but with the success of the JFK location, it is poised to grow quickly. The company has so much inbound business it’s added well-known VR industry consultant Amy Peck as its Chief Strategy Officer. Rosenthal estimates there will be over 1,000 units in the field within the next year and hinted that big announcements will be coming soon.