Oslo-based The Future Group, a social entertainment platform for television, mobile and desktop, caught everyone by surprise a couple of weeks ago when they announced they had raised a $7.5 million funding round ($8.5 million at the time of the announcement as reported by Venturebeat). It's certainly not everyday a Norwegian startup raises that amount, but even more surprising was the fact that no-one had ever heard of them before the announcement.
“We’ve been very careful to stay under the radar, simply because it’s a very big project, and it was important to do a lot of the groundwork before we did anything public”
What made it all the more impressive when they finally popped their heads up above the water, was the fact that not only had they secured $7.5 million in funding already but they’ve also partnered with global household names to launch their product in 2016. But before we delve into exactly what ‘The Future Group’ is, it's important to know a little more about Bård-Anders and Jens Petter, the two founders, in order to understand the full depth and ambition of the project.
A former Technical Director at Warner Bros, Bård-Anders has worked with some of the largest movie productions in history, such as the Matrix trilogy, Batman and Superman. He's also supervised international television and media projects, and done advanced research and development in rocket science, industrial simulation, augmented reality and high-end digital cinematography, an incredibly impressive technical and media focused background.
Meanwhile, Jens Petter is a serial entrepreneur with an extensive track record in the retail industry as part of the Høili Group (Europris), a leading Nordic retail chain. Jens Petter led the sale of Høili Group to private equity firm Industri Kapital in 2005. He has also founded several first-mover ventures such as EasyPark and FairChance Group.
Bård-Anders and Jens Petter met each other around three years ago, and have been working on The Future Group ever since, however the origins of the technology that the project is based on has been as long as ten years in the making, right back to when Bård-Anders was instrumental in the ground-breaking special effects of the Matrix trilogy. The culmination of developing this technology, and combining their own respective skills and experiences has resulted in the creation of 'The Future Universe'.
In their promotional video (currently not available publicly) their opening mission statement is to be "bringing the magic of Hollywood to TV" with 'The Future Universe' fusing television, gaming and e-commerce into a single interactive and integrated ecosystem.
In 'The Future Universe' spectacular hollywood effects are being delivered in real time. Both the participants in the studio taking part in the TV studio and the audience at home are moved into the game, meaning everyone can interact in real time, and either play against or with each other. Contestants in the studio go into the virtual world physically, while people at home are their digital selves in it with this all taking place in a huge social event once a week on primetime television.
As well as promising such a futuristic approach to interactive TV, they are also attempting to tackle e-commerce, stating they are looking to take e-commerce to a "whole new level". Prizes that can be won during the live show are allocated according to users' interests which are captured through the data collected from the click-and-pay solution that all users have to sign up to. The complete product experience adapts to the user, with the virtual world integrated with the real world, all in one environment attempting to revolutionise digital interactivity through audience participation.
This ambitious world that The Future Group is creating has understandably got people in the television industry very excited, and Bård-Anders and Jens Petter tell me that the partners they've secured are all global leaders in their field. Although they can't publicly reveal who they are yet, when I enquired whether I would know who they were, they couldn't help but let out a muffled laugh when instantaneously responding 'YES'. They even went on to say that their biggest partner told them that this was the holy grail of what they’ve been looking for and it’s not everyday they get a chance to change television.
That's a huge statement, but when I think about it, It's pretty easy to understand why the TV world would like them so much, as The Future Group's mission is to essentially bring people back to the TV screen, as well as appealing to a younger generation who are not currently watching television but are playing games on their mobiles, an experience that The Future Group are integrating with their solution.
Nonetheless, I asked them if they were concerned by the possibility that TV will reach a point where the live audience dies out completely, but they didn't appear to share my concerns.
It will stabilise at some point, it's like when DVD’s came out people thought no one would go to the cinema anymore and that didn't happen, 80% of people already watch television with their device so we’re not asking people to change their behaviours, we’re just integrating what people will already do.
Rather ominously they told me that “this is the first application of this technology” although went on to add that "for now we’re absolutely focused on the current opportunity".
It seems there are plenty of people willing to back them to nail this current opportunity, with another round of $15 million planned to close later this year in order to ensure the war chests are full ahead of a planned global launch in 2016, when if all goes to plan they would have gone from unheard of to household name all in the space of twelve months.