One of television's biggest surprise hits, Spike TV's "Lip Sync Battle," is getting the virtual reality treatment, giving the burgeoning technology a needed shot of name brand entertainment to expand its user base.
Clips taken from 10 episodes of the star-studded show will debut exclusively on Samsung's Milk VR app, a quickly growing database of virtual reality content built for Samsung's Gear VR headset.
Since it premiered this month, "Lip Sync Battle" has become a viral sensation. The game show, hosted by LL Cool J and Chrissy Teigen, pits celebrities against each other in a karaoke-style battle before a live studio audience. Theatrics are part of the gamesmanship.
British comedian Stephen Merchant performed a memorable version of
Clips of late night host
The immersive filmmaking allows viewers to experience the show as if they were on stage or in the crowd.
Long associated with video gaming or action sports (think auto racing or skydiving), virtual reality is increasingly being explored as a medium for traditional television formats. "Saturday Night Live," for example, shot its 40th anniversary episode with virtual reality cameras.
One advantage of choosing the more staid format is that the camera work is less jerky than with VR, addressing a lingering problem of making viewers queasy in the immersive headsets.
Producers of "Lip Sync Battle" say they welcomed the virtual reality concept because it captures the energy of the live show in a way regular TV can't.
"We felt like 'Lip Sync Battle' was a tremendous experience, where big stars are going out of their comfort zone, that it was an excellent match for being fully immersed," said Jay Peterson, one of the show's executive producers. "You get to be up front and center while someone like John Krasinski of 'The Office' tries to pull off a crazy song."
Virtual reality is still in its early stages, but enthusiasm is growing in no small part because of the Gear VR and the Oculus Rift, whose manufacturer, Oculus VR, was purchased by Facebook last year for $2 billion.
Neither headset has been marketed to the general public yet as the race to develop compelling virtual reality content heats up.
"We don't want to get the device into consumers' hands but not give them a reason to watch," said Matt Apfel, Samsung's vice president of strategy and creative content.
Advisory firm Digi-Capital estimates the technology could reap $150 billion in revenue by 2020.
For now, filmmakers are still experimenting.
Michael Scogin, vice president of late night at NBC Entertainment Digital, likened the transition today to when radio producers moved to TV more than half a century ago.
"It's time to play around and figure out what works and what doesn't," Scogin said.
One of those experiments at NBC was filming "Saturday Night Live's" 40th anniversary special with a pair of virtual reality camera systems.
Scogin said he was thrilled by the results, which will eventually allow viewers to watch the sketches from the crowd or eavesdrop on stars backstage.
"It was such a great opportunity to capture one of the biggest nights in TV history," Scogin said. "Most people never get to come to Studio 8H to see an episode of SNL in person, let alone the 40th anniversary night."