When a world battered by COVID-19 is ready to venture back to entertainment venues, private equity-backed Dallas company Cosm wants them to visit its towering, high-tech domes.
While movie theaters and experiential retail venues scrambled to survive a pandemic-induced decline in demand during 2020, private equity group Mirasol Capital was quietly taking one of the most prominent companies in high-tech theatrical technology private and plotting for the future.
The result is Cosm, an experiential technology company led by Jeb Terry, a former NFL lineman for the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Fox Sports vice president of emerging technology.
With the backing of RealPage founder and CEO Steve Winn’s private investment arm, the company acquired Salt Lake City-based Evans and Sutherland in April for $14.5 million, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It also bought Evans and Sutherland subsidiary Spitz Inc. and interactive virtual reality firm LiveLike VR – all now Cosm companies. The companies are some of the earliest pioneers of virtual reality, interactive VR and planetarium projection technology.
Evans and Sutherland and Spitz have been the sole, longtime providers of dome-shaped IMAX screens since bringing them to the market in 1973. The company’s technology powers experiences at more than 2,000 theaters in 50 countries, including the Liberty Science Center, U.S. Space and Rocket Center, SeaWorld and the Griffith Observatory.
“It’s that engineering heritage that we’re able to reimagine and reinvigorate,” Terry told The Dallas Morning News.
At Evans and Sutherland’s main campus in Salt Lake City, the group has constructed what Terry refers to as the culmination of all three companies’ strengths. It’s a 65-foot tall half-dome LED construction that can be customized into different shapes called DomeX, a project that’s been in the works since 2019. Evans and Sutherland developed its own proprietary rendering software to generate the accompanying video.
“We’ve been in the giant screen cinema space for a while and LED, we think, is coming down the pipeline,” Terry said.
The company plans to expand beyond science and education, where it’s an industry leader, and into live sporting events and entertainment, he said.
“We’re believers in the experience economy, but we’re also big believers in fandom. And not just fandom of sports … but of the sciences or fans of Marvel,” Terry said. “Our tech is meant to enable these kind of IP creators to increase ways to experience that.”
He said he believes the case for DomeX and Cosm’s tech was strong before the pandemic, but that it also uniquely suits the pandemic era.
“There’s going to be a subset of people that never want to go back to your standard theater, or never want to go back to a big arena or a big concert hall,” Terry said. “We can really deliver those big major events at a more manageable scale, and still give you the feeling of presence and being there.”
Winn, who will serve as the company’s board chair, lauded Cosm in a statement.
“Great companies can only realize their full potential if they have wildly ambitious goals, a phenomenal team, and the ability to execute; and Cosm has them all,” he said.
Before being taken private, Evans and Sutherland recorded $27 million in sales in 2019, a nearly $10 million drop from the year prior, which the company attributes to lower volumes of customer orders, according to a filing with the SEC.
The Cosm leadership team also includes veterans of Fox Sports and Omni Hotels & Resorts as well as Cinemark Theaters. It employs 150 people around the world.