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With VR, Top Entertainment Properties Weave a Web Around Fans

Virtual reality technology is giving entertainment licensors a way to immerse fans more fully in their favorite franchises, with perennial properties including Shrek and Star Wars positioned to reach fans in three dimensions.

DreamWorks Animation has entered into a deal with visual effects house Digital Domain to produce VR experiences with popular DWA characters, including those from the worlds of Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. While the two companies have not divulged many details of their VR plans, the technology fits well with DWA’s experiential licensing strategy. Location-based entertainment opportunities in such venues as shopping malls, cruise ships and theme parks are a key part of DWA’s plan to leverage the value of its properties for recurring revenue streams and make some of its consumer products programs perennial, rather than focused on specific events such as movie releases. Last year, for instance, DWA opened Shrek’s Adventure! London, an immersive storytelling attraction located in County Hall near the London Eye, and DreamWorks DreamPlace holiday photo studios in malls across the U.S. and London.

Meanwhile, Disney’s Lucasfilm is moving the top entertainment/character property of 2015 into VR. Lucasfilm announced at the Star Wars Celebration in London that it is working on a virtual reality project that will focus on Darth Vader and reveal aspects of the villain’s past. The project is being developed by Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB, a division that combines VFX house Industrial Light & Magic with Skywalker Sound and the Star Wars story group. At almost the same time as the Darth Vader VR announcement, Lucasfilm also released Trials on Tatooine, its first Star Wars light saber experience, for free on online game platform Steam VR.

Called a cinematic virtual reality experiment, Trials on Tatooine works on the HTC Vive.

VR is a fledging market and it’s still unclear how most consumers will eventually experience VR—whether it will be an in-home or out-of-home experience. For instance. Deloitte Global predicts that worldwide consumer spending on VR will reach $1 billion in 2016, driven initially by video gaming. It forecasts that about $700 million will be spent on hardware sales, and the remainder on content, with about 2.5 million VR headsets and 10 million game copies sold.

Other VR experiments by entertainment licensors have been launched for the in-home and out of home markets, including the location-based Sony Pictures’ Ghostbusters: Dimension, a walk-through ghost hunting experience that is a joint effort with Madame Tussauds, Ghost Corps (a Columbia Pictures’ Ghostbusters branding subsidiary) and immersive tech firm The Void. Ghostbusters: Dimension opened at Madame Tussauds New York in Times Square on July 1, two weeks before the movie reboot hit theaters.

Lionsgate has created multiple VR experiences for its Divergent franchise, including 2015’s Insurgent—Shatter Reality, a four-minute VR promotion for film The Divergent Series: Insurgent, in partnership with Samsung Electronics America. The VR experience was location based in a handful of cities and available more widely as an app for Samsung’s Gear VR. This year, a VR experience inspired by The Divergent Series: Allegiant has been available for HTC Vive.

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