SBJ/March 14-20, 2016/Finance

Intel investment arm leads funding for VR firm Voke



Virtual reality company Voke has closed on a $12.5 million Series A round of venture capital funding, led by Intel Capital, as it seeks to expand its standing in the burgeoning space.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Voke is one of a select number of companies active in the live streaming of top-tier sports in VR, and the company has worked with the Sacramento Kings, Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington State Cougars, among others. The work with the Kings included distribution of the team’s home opener last fall in VR to viewers in India in a partnership with NBA India.

The Voke funding round was led by the investment arm of technology giant Intel, which has invested more than $11 billion in companies in its quarter-century of existence. Intel Capital was joined in the Voke funding by the Kings, who initially announced their equity participation in the company last fall, along with cable network A&E and Nautilus Ventures.

The new Voke funds will be used in part to secure more premier sports for live distribution in VR.

“The VR market is obviously exploding so to get this kind of support from Intel is a big stamp of validation for us and our technology platform,” said Sankar “Jay” Jayaram, Voke founder and chief executive. Before the formation of Voke, Jayaram co-founded 3-D company 3D-4U and was a professor of mechanical engineering and computer science at Washington State.

Voke has attracted several other accomplished industry veterans to the company. Jeff Jonas, Voke’s chief revenue officer, previously was senior vice president of business development at Sportvision and helped bring several notable technologies to market, including football’s first down line and the K Zone in baseball. Circle Media Chairman and Chief Executive Randy Eccker, who previously ran XOS Digital, sits on the company’s board of directors, and pop star and Miami Dolphins investor Marc Anthony is a Voke advisory board member.

Beyond full VR productions, Voke has also been active in developing immersive two-dimensional video productions in which a user moving a tablet or smartphone device changes the viewing angle of the content. Such videos are also growing in popularity, and YouTube, for example, now operates an entire channel of 360-degree videos that don’t necessarily require VR goggles to view.

“There is a whole new movement quickly developing around user-controlled media,” Jonas said. “It’s a whole new language that’s developing.”

The Voke investment also extends a fast-growing interest in sports by Intel at large, as it sees sports intersecting with many other areas in which it has an active role. Company Chief Executive Brian Krzanich in January participated in the sports business summit organized by Turner Sports and held at the International Consumer Electronics Show. And Intel last week said it is acquiring Israeli company Replay Technologies, which creates immersive, panoramic 360-degree replays and has worked over its five-year existence with the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and the NBA, among others.

“Nearly every business is being revolutionized by data and the ability to capture, connect, analyze and interact with it,” said Wendell Brooks, Intel Capital president, in a company blog post. “One example that Intel is especially excited about is how data is reinventing the way people consume and interact with sports media.”

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