Sir David Attenborough is to be turned into a hologram for a new virtual reality tour of London’s Natural History Museum that promises to allow users to “handle” rare fossils from the comfort of their own home.
Sky has commissioned the new experience, called Hold The World, which it says is a marriage of interactive video game technology and TV documentary. The public will be able to take the tour, which promises an up close and personal experience with “fossils, bones and skulls” with insights from Attenborough, if they have a VR set, controller and phone app.
“Hold The World offers people a unique opportunity: to examine rare objects, some millions of years old, up close,” said Attenborough. “It represents an extraordinary new step in how people can explore and experience nature, all from the comfort of their own homes.”
Sky, which has plans for 12 VR film projects and has already released two linked to its Formula One coverage, wants to showcase the potential and boost the popularity of the technology.
“VR and augmented reality have good long-term potential in the market,” said the Sky chief executive, Jeremy Darroch.
Sky also announced the launch of a new global production partnership with HBO, maker of shows including Game of Thrones, with a $250m (£195m) initial investment to make a string of high end dramas.
The new business, which aims to produce about two major series a year, is at least partly a response to the billions of investment in top quality programming made by newer entrants such as Netflix.
“This will give us an ongoing slate of high quality drama to exploit at home and globally,” said Darroch. “Hopefully it will mean we can create take a lot of our high end drama to the next level.”
Sky has a separate existing deal to exclusively air HBO programming, such as Billions and Game of Thrones, which runs until 2020.
Sky reported an 11% decline in operating profits to £1bn in the nine months to the end of March. Its UK business, which accounts for almost all of its profits, saw a 20% drop from £1.15bn to £918m.
The broadcaster partly blamed the drop on a major increase in Premier League rights payments, which have ballooned to £494m so far this year in line with the start of its new £4.2bn three-year contract.
Darroch said that a significant boost in total revenues, which have grown 11% to £9.6bn in the nine months to March, and cost savings helped it to absorb the higher programming bill which pushed total costs up 8% to £8.6bn. Stripping out currency effects Sky’s revenues rose by 5% year on year for the nine-month period.
The company said it has battled a tough UK ad market, which fell by 8% in the first quarter of this year, outperforming the conditions with its own ad revenues down by just 3% in its home market.
TV ad revenues across Sky’s total business, which includes operations in Germany, Austria and Italy, grew by 4% to £613m in the nine months.
Sky said its German operation performed strongly; its profits of £4m mark the first time the business has been in the black at the nine-month stage. Its Italian operation produced its fastest rate of revenue growth in eight years, up 7% to £1.8bn for the nine months, as profits tripled year on year to £91m.