Skip to story The Lip Sync Battle VR experience is meant to give viewers the sense of being in the crowd when the show is taped. courtesy Matador
Virtual reality hasn’t had a viral hit yet. The technology is too new, and in too few hands, to hit Star Wars Kid levels of “Have you seen this?!” But if a VR could go viral, the new Lip Sync Battle experience would be the one most likely to hit big numbers.
Today, Lip Sync Battle, which airs Thursdays on the Spike network, is releasing a virtual version of its show on the Milk VR app for the Samsung Gear VR headset. The show, which is exactly what it sounds like with the added bonus of celebrities, has been a viral hit machine with clips featuring the likes of Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, and Anne Hathaway racking up millions of views on YouTube.
“We chose this show based on its share-ability,” says Casey Patterson, the head of talent development and production at Spike’s parent Viacom. “The most important thing is connecting with your audiences in new and different ways. So, VR is so fresh and yet another way for someone to experience your [shows].”
Ten episodes were filmed for VR. The experiences being released today are highlights of shows on which John Legend battled Common and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson faced Jimmy Fallon. More experiences will roll out as future episodes air, says Jay Peterson, the founder and CEO of Matador, which produced the VR segments.
It might seem excessive to have a 360-degree version of a show that can gets most of its best gags across even in YouTube clips, but Peterson says Lip Sync Battle in VR provides immersion and makes viewers feel like they were at a show very few people made it into. “It’s the ultimate experience that you can’t get any other way,” he says. “It’s exactly what I think virtual reality was supposed to provide.”
That’s true even for the stars on the show, apparently. The crew had a Samsung Gear VR kit on the set so contestants could see the show from inside a headset. Most had no idea what Gear VR was, Peterson says, but “they universally loved it.”
Will consumers? Probably. (OK, we’re biased. We watch a fair amount of Lip Sync Battle around here.) But that may not matter. Finding applications for VR beyond gaming (the most obvious use) remains something like the wild west, so it’s hard to know what’s going to click and what isn’t. Now is the time to experiment—and working with something that has a bit of celebrity panache never hurts.
“The celebrity factor was a big thing. VR is still such a small environment and a small ecosystem, despite all of the interest in it,” says Matt Apfel, Samsung’s head of content for Milk VR. “We want to make a lot of efforts to try things because who are we to know whether people want to watch concerts or football games or animals sitting in the Serengeti?”
To that end, both Viacom and Samsung will be watching the response to Lip Sync Battle’s VR experience closely to see how fans respond. It may not go viral, but as Apfel notes, the data he’s seen so far shows “people like everything” that comes out on Milk VR.
And this is only Season 1. Lip Sync Battle just got picked up for a second season so there will be opportunities to do more things, and different things, with VR. And, ultimately, whether Battle’s VR experience is a raging success isn’t so important as simply giving it a shot.
“It’s the future,” says Patterson. “It’s just incredibly exciting as a concept, so whether we have the perfect iteration of it on this first season of this one show, that doesn’t matter as much as the idea of experimenting with it does.”