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WWE Steps Into Virtual-Reality Ring With Samsung (Exclusive)

WWE is the latest entertainment company to take a test run at virtual reality, launching two VR videos exclusively on Samsung Electronics’ Milk VR content service to give fans a front-row perch to soak up the grappling action.

The videos are available on the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition, powered by Oculus VR, as well as on the forthcoming $99 Gear VR consumer headset slated to go on sale in time for Black Friday (Nov. 27). WWE worked with studio Reel FX to produce the VR segments, shot at its tentpole SummerSlam 2015 event this August at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

“It’s a first step for us into virtual reality world,” said Michelle Wilson, WWE chief revenue and marketing officer. “I don’t know if (VR is) going to be the next big success or not, but we’re going to be platform agnostic — and go where our fans go.”

For Samsung, getting VR content seeded into Milk VR is a linchpin of its consumer launch.

“We think it’s strategically important to have premium partners like WWE to dive in here, not only to attract users, but to push innovation and also drive engagement,” said Matt Apfel, VP of strategy and creative content at Samsung Media Solutions Center America. “Big names are great to attract audience but our goal is to make sure their experiences kick ass.”

Other VR content partners Samsung has lined up so far include Discovery Communications, while Netflix and Hulu say they’ll have apps ready to roll for the Gear VR. Apfel said movie studios will have VR versions of trailers on Milk VR and noted that Samsung is working with Skybound Entertainment to produce an original virtual-reality thriller series called “Gone.”

WWE’s first VR video features 360-degree highlights from SummerSlam weekend, including the showdown between John Cena and Seth Rollins and the surprise appearance of Jon Stewart as host. The other video recaps the match between Finn Bálor and Kevin Owens at NXT TakeOver, a WWE Network special that took place the night before SummerSlam.

In producing the content, WWE ensured that the VR crew at SummerSlam didn’t interfere with the live crew for the pay-per-view broadcast. “We were able to put (the virtual-reality camera operators) in positions where they were a fly on the wall,” Wilson said. The VR camera rigs Reel FX used were relatively small, she added, and the bulk of the time and expense was in post-production editing.

WWE was an especially good fit for Samsung’s VR content push, Apfel said. Not only do the companies’ target audiences intersect, but WWE’s content provides both “proximity and polish” — it’s shot from ringside vantage points and has high production values.

“For (intellectual property) owners, the strategy is pretty clear: If you think virtual reality is going to take off, you have to have these experiments and experiences to learn and perfect, and then you start to build an audience,” Apfel said.

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