Dentsu's Venture Capital Fund Invests in U.S. VR Sports Startup

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LiveLike's virtual VIP suite
LiveLike's virtual VIP suite Credit: LiveLike
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The venture capital fund of Japanese ad giant Dentsu Inc. has invested in a small U.S. virtual reality startup whose technology can give sports spectators the sensation of watching a game from a stadium VIP suite, even if they're just lazing on the couch at home.

Dentsu would not provide details about the size of the investment. The New York-based startup, called LiveLike, says it has 34 employees.

Tokyo-based Dentsu, founded in 1901, last year launched Dentsu Ventures to back startups, with total fund capital of over $49 million. It has invested in projects ranging from U.S. robotics startup Jibo to a company called Tynker that teaches kids how to code. The fund is looking for projects that could build future business opportunities for Dentsu, said Kotaro Sasamoto, Dentsu Ventures' managing partner.

"One mission is to increase the value of content, increase the value of sports and entertainment," said Kotaro Sasamoto, Dentsu Ventures' managing partner. His team was attracted to LiveLike's ability to create VR content inexpensively, because it works with TV stations that can use their own cameras and facilities.

LiveLike's technology powers the Fox Sports VR app, which offered the Ohio State-Oklahoma college game last weekend in virtual reality. In March, LiveLike partnered with the broadcast arm of the ATP World Tour on a VR lounge at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

As Dentsu describes it, LiveLike "gives viewers the opportunity to watch live sports in virtual reality from a 'private suite' that mimics a real VIP suite experience, complete with additional feeds, statistics and a jumbotron showing the game's TV broadcast."

Mr. Sasamoto said LiveLike's virtual stadium VIP suites could "be used for advertising space, or to create some product placement. … We see a potential for the marketing angle."

Tokyo-based Dentsu is heavily invested in the sports marketing business, and it holds Olympic broadcast rights in 22 Asian countries from 2018-2024.

Most big advertising players have been funding startups. WPP has WPP Ventures, based in Silicon Valley; one recent investment was into Woven Digital, which targets millennial males with pop culture content. Interpublic Group of Cos. famously bought a less-than $5 million stake in Facebook in 2006; in 2011 it sold half the stake for $133 million, and in 2012 it sold the remaining shares for $95 million.