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Why Samsung Is Selling Its Cheap Virtual-Reality Camera Only to Digital Influencers First

Samsung is launching its Gear 360 virtual-reality camera in the U.S. this week — for the relatively affordable price tag of $350 — but for now it’s only selling the small orbital rig to top YouTubers and other digital-video creators.

The first Gear 360 units will be available for purchase at this year’s VidCon, the annual digital-video fest in Anaheim, Calif., where many of the Internet’s biggest stars congregate. After VidCon, the consumer-electronics company will make the Samsung Gear 360 available for creators to purchase “at select events and activations, leading up to the consumer launch later in the year,” a rep says.

Part of the reason for the limited-release strategy is psychological: By creating artificial scarcity, Samsung is hoping high-profile digital creators will be enticed to play around with a VR camera that’s not available to the general public. The Gear 360, Samsung promises, is very simple to use, letting users shoot, edit, view and share 360-degree video from the palms of their hands. Manufacturing capacity, too, may be a gating factor.

But the main reason is Samsung’s desire to seed production of VR content, which it desperately needs in order to sell more virtual-reality headsets and its line of mobile devices that go with them. There’s not an extensive amount of virtual-reality video available yet, and Samsung is eager to foster projects that show the art of the possible.

With the rollout at VidCon, Samsung has teamed up with creators including YouTube filmmaker Casey Neistat. Neistat, who specializes in action sequences, is the guy who created the popular “Snowboarding With the NYPD” video this past winter and has 3.4 million subscribers on the service. The company is debuting a curated selection of VR content at VidCon.

“We want to bring the power of VR technology directly to the people,” said Samsung Electronics America’s CMO Marc Mathieu. “To help creators learn and perfect the art of VR storytelling, we’ve built an entire VR ecosystem that pushes beyond the frame and empowers them to develop unforgettable, immersive stories, and inspires us all to do the same.”

As a carrot to motivate VR creators, the company in July will launch the Samsung Creators competition, which will pick 10 winners in each of the following categories: music, auto, science and tech, gaming, travel, fashion, culinary, cause-related, 4D and sports. One winner from each of the 10 categories will receive a cash prize of $10,000, a ticket to the Creators Awards ceremony in New York including two round-trip flights, and a masterclass with VR filmmaking pros.

In addition, Samsung announced that it has rebranding the Samsung Milk VR service as Samsung VR, which now allows any user to upload and share virtual-reality content. Creators can load their own 360-degree videos to the Samsung VR platform for sharing and for the first time view them in the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR headset.

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