Now wrestling fans can experience World Wrestling Entertainment action ringside from the comfort of their own homes, thanks to 360-degree video content on Samsung MILK VR.
WWE has over 550 million fans on social media and its streaming subscription service, WWE Network, has 1.3 million paying subscribers. Introducing this dedicated fan base to virtual reality could ultimately help Samsung sell its new $99 Gear VR Consumer Edition head-mounted display that launches this month.
The WWE 360 channel, which launched on MILK VR last week, debuted with a pair of short videos that were captured with 360-degree cameras at the SummerSlam pay-per-view at Barclays Center in New York City in August. One video shows highlights of the pay-per-view event, and includes wrestlers like John Cena and Seth Rollins, as well as host Jon Stewart. The second video features scenes from the NXT TakeOver match a day earlier with wrestlers Finn Bálor and Kevin Owens.
Michelle Wilson, WWE’s chief revenue and marketing officer, says this foray into virtual reality is a “first step” to bring fans a different perspective and new way to engage with WWE content that was never possible before.
“WWE is unique because it’s not just about what’s happening in the ring, our product is about entrances and what they do when they get thrown into the crowd barrier and how the fans engage and react,” Wilson says. “Three hundred and sixty degrees is really the best way to experience a WWE event because our live product is about 360-degrees and that’s a little different than other sports that take place on the court or on the field or on the ice.”
Matt Apfel, vice president of strategy and creative content at Samsung, 360-degree storytelling is a key focus for the company’s virtual reality content and WWE fits nicely within that framework. He says everything about a WWE event encourages viewers to look around and explore.
And with WWE content currently available in 175 countries, it also introduces Gear VR to a global audience.
“We’ve seen the success that WWE has already enjoyed with its push into digital content, and WWE fans are legendary for their passion and engagement,” Apfel says. “So we feel our potential audiences intersect nicely.”
In a possible sign of the future for sports, multiple startups are experimenting with the NBA and teams like the Sacramento Kings on 180-degree livestreaming this season. Wilson says WWE has had conversations about livestreaming its wrestling matches as well.
“We’d be very interested in experimenting with livestreaming an event,” Wilson says. “If you can give a ringside view, even if it’s from a 180-degree perspective, there’s a lot of interest in that from a live perspective. We have a WWE Network that’s a direct-to-consumer streaming service and we do live pay-per-views every month.”
With live programming 52 weeks a year reaching over 650 million homes worldwide, WWE has plenty of content to tap into. Wilson says WWE fans are very tech savvy and many are big gamers. Gaming has been a big focus of early virtual reality hardware makers like Samsung, Facebook-owned Oculus VR, Sony, and HTC.
WWE (“WWE”) has done a lot of research on its fan base, and Wilson says this fan base is more active than the average consumer across technology categories. They are twice as likely to have Netflix and five times more likely to watch streaming content watch.
“Technology is in their DNA with the overlap across gaming and viewing and streaming,” Wilson says. “We think our fans are going to go to VR.”
Wilson hopes this push into virtual reality is a first step of many, but she’s waiting to see how consumer adoption of Gear VR and other headsets goes this holiday and beyond.
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