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Facebook Launches 360-Degree Videos with ‘Star Wars,’ ‘SNL,’ Vice and More

Facebook — keeping pace with Google’s YouTube — has launched panoramic 360-degree videos, with initial partners taking advantage of the feature including Disney’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” GoPro, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and Vice Media.

Disney and Lucasfilm on Wednesday debuted an exclusive 360-degree video clip from the forthcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” slated to hit U.S. theaters Dec. 18, on the “Star Wars” Facebook page. The video lets the viewer zoom over the surface of desert planet Jakku, exploring every angle from the cruiser while in flight.

The 360-video feature lets Facebook users choose the angle to watch it from. On a PC, that’s controlled by dragging the video around with the mouse cursor; on mobile devices, users drag a finger across the screen or rotate the device. “You’ll be able to hold up your phone and the 360 video will follow you as you turn, looking around, to experience things from all over the world like never before,” the company said in a blog post.

In addition to Disney’s “Star Wars,” Facebook media partners sharing new 360-degree videos at launch include DiscoveryGoProLeBron James’ Uninterrupted, launched earlier this year with Turner’s Bleacher Report; “SNL“; and Vice. The social giant foresees expanding the feature to all user-shared video, although today capturing 360-degree video requires a specialized camera array.

LeBron James’ 360-degree video on Facebook shows the Cleveland Cavaliers star practicing his shooting and slam-dunks on an empty court. The clip is part of Uninterrupted’s “LeBron James Striving for Greatness,” produced by Felix & Paul Studios, a virtual-reality experience that will be released as a series of five episodes on Facebook and also as a standalone VR experience for distribution on the Oculus platform in mid-November.

YouTube, the Internet’s No. 1 video destination, introduced support 360-degree videos this past March. Most recently, Google teamed with NBC on a 360-degree video promoting this week’s premiere of “Heroes Reborn,” featuring YouTube star Zach King.

Facebook’s 360-degree videos currently work on the web and on Android devices; the company said it anticipates rolling out support for Apple iOS in the coming months.

The new feature is part of an aggressive push by Facebook to expand its video footprint. While it’s been gaining on YouTube, Facebook still trails in being able to identify copyrighted content uploaded to the service and sharing ad revenue with creators — both areas Facebook is currently testing at the behest of big content partners.

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