OmniVirt brings 360-degree advertising to big publishers

OmniVirt is promising to help publishers and advertisers tap into the potential of virtual reality.

It’s not the only startup working on VR/360-degree ads (other companies in the market include Immersv and VirtualSky), but co-founder and COO Michael Rucker said OmniVirt stands out by offering a 360-degree ad experience in the mobile browser — users don’t have to buy a fancy headset, or even download a separate app.

For example, GE ran a campaign using OmniVirt technology on the New York Times website last week, and as I write this on Monday evening, there’s an OmniVirt-powered Infiniti ad on the NYT front page. It looks like a normal banner ad at first, but if you tap or click it, you can start exploring a 360-degree video.

This approach may not be quite as exciting as a full-on VR experience, but Rucker suggested that it can help advertisers reach a much broader audience with their 360 content. Other publishers working with OmniVirt include Vice, AOL (which owns TechCrunch), the Wall Street Journal and Twitter.

Rucker previously worked as head of content strategy at YouTube, and he said he teamed up with OmniVirt CEO Brad Phaisan because he sees similarities between the current state of VR advertising and the early days of TrueView ads on YouTube — lots of experimentation and investment, but hampered by unclear standards.

Right now, he added, brands and publishers are investing in virtual reality content, but they’re hitting “a little bit of a distribution wall.” Even if you don’t require users to buy a specific headset, just downloading an app for Google Cardboard is an “an additional barrier to consumer adoption.”

“We are solving this challenge,” Rucker said.

And while ads are the starting point, OmniVirt is also starting to work with publishers to support 360-degree editorial content as well.

OmniVirt was previously known as AdsOptimal and has raised seed funding from investors including Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst, SV Angel and Y Combinator. You can try out some demo ads here.