Sports Illustrated Scales First Mount Everest Virtual-Reality Docu-Series

Todd Spangler
Variety

Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated has acquired a VR documentary series centered on four climbers as they summit Mount Everest, promising viewers a breathtaking, first-person perspective on the most dangerous journey in the mountaineering world.

The media company picked up rights to the docu-series from Endemol Shine Beyond USA, the digital division of Endemol Shine North America. The multipart production, “Capturing Everest,” is touted as the first complete ascent of Everest in VR. It’s slated to debut on Time Inc.’s new Life VR platform and SI.com in 360-degree video in the first quarter of 2017, and SI will also feature coverage of the climb across print and digital properties.

Shot on location over a two-month period in April and May of 2016, Endemol Shine Beyond USA worked with climbing expedition leader Garrett Madison and independent producer Lauren Selig to put cameras in the hands of the climbers. They acquired nearly two months’ worth of daily video elements, which the post-production teams are currently combing through. The production used a variety of GoPro VR rigs to capture the footage including stationary, body-mounted and zipline rigs.

“Attacking the world’s highest summit seemed like the perfect place to go with our new VR initiative, and by partnering with Endemol Shine and adding in the world-class storytellers from Sports Illustrated, I think we have something truly special and unique to offer our audience,” said Mia Tramz, managing editor of Life VR.

The total running time of “Capturing Everest” and the number of episodes is still to be determined, although Tramz said each segment will likely be longer than the 3-5 minute average for many VR experiences.

The docu-series will be available on Life VR, a free, standalone app for iOS and Android with programming available across Google Cardboard, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus. The content also will be available as 360-degree video on desktop and mobile devices.

“Capturing Everest” will carry advertising, and Tramz said the Time Inc. sales team is in the process of approaching brands about sponsorships. The docu-series will be available for free through the Cardboard app, but it might be offered as a paid premium for other platforms. For example, for “Lumen,” a nonlinear interactive VR experience designed to help users de-stress, Life VR charged $4.99 for the version available for Windows on Steam for the HTC Vive.

Bonnie Pan, president of Endemol Shine Beyond USA, said she began speaking with Tramz about the Mount Everest VR project shortly after it greenlit the production, and found a natural home with Sports Illustrated. “There are many, many people who want to tell stories in virtual reality – this was about finding the right partner for it… and we wanted to find a way for this to live inside the SI brand,” she said. “We didn’t actively shop it around.”

The series follows a team led by Madison, a six-time Everest summiteer who has led 37 climbers to the summit, the most by an American climber. The series focuses on four climbers: Brent Bishop, a three-time Everest summiteer, son of legendary climber Barry Bishop; Jeff Glasbrenner, aiming to become the first American amputee to summit Everest; Lisa White, the lone female member of the team and a cancer survivor; and Nick Perks, who promised to climb Everest in memory of his late father and was hoping to raise £29,035 for Unicef (one pound sterling for every foot climbed).

The viewer experience begins in Kathmandu, Nepal, as the climbers make their way to Everest Base Camp and then through each pass, crevasse and ice wall up to the summit.

“Capturing Everest” isn’t SI’s first VR content: In February, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s VR experiences launched earlier this year in conjunction with the mag’s annual bikini franchise, taking viewers inside the photo shoots of former cover models on location in the Dominican Republic.

Watch the trailer for “Capturing Everest”:

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