‘Shared reality’ venue Cosm will give fans a front-row seat
Courtesy of Cosm
You’re courtside, watching the sweat roll off LeBron James’ face as he sinks the winning basket. You scored floor seats at Ed Sheeran’s sold-out show at Madison Square Garden. You’re so close to the UFC fight that it almost feels like you’re inside the cage. You’re looking down into the halfpipe during snowboarder Hirano Ayumu’s Olympic gold run.
Views like these are extremely difficult for even the world’s most elite audience members to obtain. Even without expecting the best seat in the house, the sports and entertainment industry is hallmarked by live experiences that can be expensive or otherwise difficult for fans to access.
Now imagine a venue that brings together a cutting-edge audiovisual experience, your favorite food and drink options, a congenial space with front-row access to popular events and the buzzing energy shared between fans—all for a fraction of the cost. That’s Cosm, and as a viewer, the experience is difficult to put into words.
“It’s not a theater. It’s not an arena. It’s not an attraction. It’s just Cosm,” said Jeb Terry, president and CEO of Cosm, during a demo at the company’s research and development facility in Salt Lake City. “That’s the opportunity we have; to really define a new type of experience.”
Entertainment: A dish best served family-style
So how does one describe the indescribable? Though there are many tech-enabled realities available (virtual, augmented, mixed, extended), obtaining access to them through a headset prevents the viewer from experiencing the realities with others. Cosm makes this possible, ushering in a new era of immersive entertainment: shared reality.
“Whether it’s virtual tourism or the front row of a Jazz game, we believe that our technology provides the opportunity for a greater number of people to experience those places that have traditionally been reserved for a very, very few,” says Rachael Stockham, VP of sales and partnerships for Cosm.
According to Mark Tatum, deputy commissioner of the NBA, only about one percent of basketball fans will have the chance to watch a game live from a stadium. A recent Ticketmaster debacle highlighted the same problem permeating the music industry when only 17 percent of Taylor Swift fans were able to obtain tickets to The Eras Tour.
Courtesy of Cosm
Still, fans are persistent, and shared experiences are king. About fifty million households—many of which are likely the gathering places of family and friends—tune in to watch the Super Bowl each year. This spring, an estimated 1.4 million fans of the K-pop supergroup BTS gathered in theatres worldwide to watch a concert livestream from Seoul. In May, 20,000 ticketless Swifties gathered in the streets to dance and sing outside Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field stadium together during the show.
Cosm combines these unique shared experiences with spatial audio and a compound curved, 94-by-55-foot 8K LED display to create a venue unlike anything else in the world, says Kirk Johnson, COO of Cosm.
“You can walk around and carry on a conversation. You can have your favorite food and beverage to match the experience that you’re having,” Johnson continues. “And I think that has to happen in the marketplace. With what we can get on our cellphones and at home on TVs, the old technology isn’t enough to get people off their couches. But I believe this is.”
Powered by the same software that enables larger-than-life attractions in science centers, theme parks and over 700 planetariums worldwide, Cosm is the world leader in 8K bandwidth production technology—and since its official launch in 2020, it’s hit one home run after the next. Just this year, Cosm acquired immersive video and production company C360, secured partnerships with the NBA, UFC and Cirque du Soleil, and announced plans to build its first public venues in Los Angeles and Dallas. The company was even selected by NBC Sports to provide ultra-high resolution, immersive streaming feeds for its virtual reality coverage of the XXIV Olympic Winter Games, resulting in world’s first immersive 8K livestream. This project led to the co-authoring of the first-ever whitepaper on immersive 8K production and a Sports Emmy nomination.
“Through our experience powering rides in theme parks, suspension of disbelief is something we’re very familiar with,” Stockham says. “We’ve been able to extrapolate and bring that into the sports and entertainment space.”
"Whether it’s virtual tourism or the front row of a Jazz game, we believe that our technology provides the opportunity for a greater number of people to experience those places that have traditionally been reserved for a very, very few."
Building on a local legacy
Though headquartered in Los Angeles, Cosm has about 75 Utah-based employees that work from the R&D lab—named the Cosm Experience Center—inside the University of Utah Research Park. But the company’s Utah roots run much deeper: In 1963, Ivan Sutherland created Sketchpad, the world’s first graphical user interface. In 1968, Sutherland then developed the world’s first VR headset, Sword of Damocles, paving the way for all future virtual technologies.
Together with David Evans, Sutherland went on to found the first computer science school at the University of Utah and formed Evans & Sutherland (E&S) in Salt Lake City. In 1981, E&S created the world’s first digital planetarium system and one of the world’s first immersive displays, Digistar.
Throughout the 2010s, Cosm’s current leadership team—which has experience working with the biggest leagues in the world to produce events like the World Series, Super Bowl and the World Cup—assembled, forming the foundation of the company’s modern operations.
Finally, in 2020, Cosm acquired E&S, LiveLikeVR (now Cosm Immersive) and Philadelphia-based Spitz, the world’s leading supplier of projection domes. With the dream team in place and the Wasatch Front as a backdrop, the vision took off.
“We started to build this [R&D facility] here because E&S was already located here. This was the home of our real-time flight simulation and our Digistar computer scientists and our pixel processing and image management groups,” Johnson says. “Because this space was originally built to produce flight simulators years ago, we already had a space where we could build a large dome. It’s not easy to find spaces like this around Salt Lake Valley or even around the country.”
Though Cosm has 225 employees and agents in nine countries, Stockham says she feels the company’s heartbeat here in Utah.
“It cantilevers off the genesis of computer graphics at the University of Utah,” she continues. “It’s an honor for our company to be a part of that.”
Courtesy of Cosm
Tourism in the morning, touchdowns at night
Through Cosm’s three main pillars—Cosm Technologies, Cosm Media and Cosm Entertainment—the company covers content acquisition, distribution and creation for the dome theatres in its network of planetariums and B2B customers. With the announced opening of fan-facing venues, Cosm is, in essence, becoming its own biggest customer.
“We believe in what we’re doing so much that we’re doing it ourselves,” Stockham says. “We will always continue to level up and stay at the leading edge of what happens in the immersive entertainment space. All of our B2B customers will be able to realize and share in the advancements in immersive entertainment that we are pursuing for our owned and operated venues. It’s a really nice flywheel, and it works together beautifully.”
For B2B customers, the possibilities are as endless as the imagination. For example, a venue could operate as a virtual aquarium in the morning, planetarium in the afternoon and sports venue in the evening, Johnson says.
“We can change content minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour,” he continues. “We can really give flexibility to both our B2B partners and also to our own venues, providing whatever space it is and whatever content it is that might be of interest.”
Cosm’s business acquisitions allow the company to offer a full-stack solution to B2B customers, Terry says. “Whether it’s drawing the dome, bending the metal, controlling the pixels, capturing the content, distributing the content—we offer that full-stack experiential solution so the fans can just lose themselves in the media, be in the content and feel like they’re actually there.”
Courtesy of Cosm
Coming to a dome near you
As for Cosm’s own venues, Johnson says the slab has officially been poured and steel is being erected at the Hollywood Park site in Los Angeles. The doors are set to open for fans in the summer of 2024, at which time technology will have inevitably advanced again—with the Cosm team leading the charge.
“As production standards rise, it starts to match our display technology,” Terry says. “The venue we’re opening in Los Angeles streams at 12K. You can’t even think of producing for 12K with super low latency right now, but we know we will.”
Cosm plans to open its second venue just outside Dallas in the fall of 2024, with additional venue locations to be announced throughout the next year. The renderings of each site tease several spaces to watch events while socializing, eating and drinking, including sports bar-type decks and outdoor patios.
“We believe it’s going to be a space unlike any other,” Johnson says. “The capacity of the [Los Angeles] facility is about 1,700 people with 500 seats inside the dome itself and room for about 700 as standing room only. It’ll be a fun atmosphere with some general admission on the floor.”
Terry says Cosm will utilize a dynamic pricing model that will fluctuate with scarcity and program type, but customers can expect to pay ticket prices similar to other high-end cinema experiences. “We want to be approachable,” he emphasizes.
When will Utah get its own Cosm venue? No plans have been announced yet, though Johnson claims the company hopes to eventually have a footprint in every major metropolitan market. For now, only a handful of lucky locals have been invited to enjoy special events—like a Vivint awards ceremony or Clark Planetarium gala—at the Cosm Experience Center’s “demo dome.”
It’s been beneficial for Cosm to gauge audience reactions at the R&D facility so far, Johnson says, on the very same campus where computer graphics and virtual reality pioneers wrote the state of Utah into the immersive entertainment history books.
“We’re really excited about the history that we have and the spirit of innovation inside our company,” Stockham says. “It’s amazing to have the heart of the technology here in Salt Lake City where we have close ties to the genesis of computer graphics through Evans & Sutherland and the University of Utah, which is at the center of what we’ve done for a long time. We’re proud to have such deep roots here and are excited about what we’re going to accomplish in the future.”