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The Who Announce New App, Preview Foray Into Virtual Reality

Around the release of a new greatest hits compilation, The Who have released a mobile app and previewed their forthcoming "virtual reality experience." We took a look.

Rock giants The Who today launch a 3D immersive app, developed in collaboration with their management company Trinifold, U.K. tech company Immersive and Universal Music. The app (which coincides with Universal’s just-released The Who Hits 50! compilation) is now available free, with a premium version for Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headsets planned for the new year.

“The Who Immersive App” is centered on a 3D virtual world that features key events and landmarks from The Who’s 50-year history, including some of the iconic visuals conjured by Pete Townshend’s songs, such as a pinball and a magic bus. The app’s 16-strong staff includes Jamie Daltrey (son of Who frontman Roger Daltrey), who has been closely involved in the app’s development, gathering rare band artifacts from his father and from Trinifold.   



The app links both to download and streaming services, and the initial launch area features a “flythrough” exhibition of the new album compilation, including rare and unseen images. Subsequent updates will celebrate not just the band’s past but its future, offering a “relationship” with The Who via virtual access to the group’s upcoming tour. British dates begin Nov. 30, with two sets of North American runs starting in April and September 2015.

Billboard was given an exclusive demonstration last Friday (Nov. 7) at Trinifold’s London offices, both of the free app and a development version of the Oculus version. The latter offers a 3D journey through a Who soundscape in which the user can determine the audio and visual content by changing their view through 360 degrees via the headset. As the consumer travels immersively with the band and the 1978 hit “Who Are You” plays, for example, a glance in one direction will isolate Daltrey’s vocals on the song, and in another, John Entwistle’s bass.

The Who Announce New App, Preview Foray Into Virtual Reality
The author, play-testing The Who's virtual reality app for Oculus Rift.

The app will have a media launch on Wednesday (Nov. 12) at a club in Shepherd’s Bush, close to the band’s birthplace. “I’m not a fan of smartphones, but I have to admit they do open up huge possibilities to entertain and educate,” says Roger Daltrey. “The music business needs to use every avenue possible to keep the fans and the music in close contact. This app will hopefully teach our newer, younger fans everything they might want to know of our history, and hopefully unearth some odds and sods for our older ones.”

Universal Strategic Marketing head of digital Geoff Smith tells Billboard: “It’s been a great collaboration working so closely with Immersive, the band and management, being able to create a new way to experience the music, the stories and the iconic imagery of The Who. This first release is just a taste for what’s to come, as we plan to evolve the app through the band’s current touring schedule while celebrating their incredible catalogue and 50 year legacy.” 

Of the Oculus tie-in, he says: “Virtual reality’s been around for years, but with Facebook buying Oculus and other leading tech companies actively building VR hardware & software, the technology is going to start accelerating into the public’s hands. Once you’ve experienced it, it’s clear that the possibilities are endless.”

Immersive’s Michael Fenna notes: “We want to use the technology to unlock completely new experiences and bring all the amazing imagery to life in a different way. We didn’t want to create a 2D website.” Jamie Daltrey adds: “That’s where people lose their relationship with apps, because they essentially facilitate what a website does. This is more engaging, especially if we keep it evolving.”