The Media And The Metaverse
Research looks at the impact of this still-emerging tech on the media.
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Readers, listeners and Twitter followers alike will know I am somewhat cynical about the metaverse. For one thing, pandemic lockdowns confirmed that I rather like doing things with other people, in person. For another, the phrase “the metaverse” doesn't actually mean very much, as yet. Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has tried to corner the market for online interactive spaces - they've got LEGS guys (kinda) - but similar kinds of worlds exist elsewhere. Video games provide some of the most obvious examples of these spaces.
However, it is clear that the idea of the metaverse is not going anywhere anytime soon. So how will existing media companies respond? Will they commit resources or ignore it? Which one of these is the right approach? It's a topic that was touched on in a recent episode of The Addition podcast with Lauren Ingram - the founder of Women of Web3.
Media analysts Enders Analysis have taken a closer look at the subject in recent research papers. They use various criteria to define the metaverse, such as “a combination of physical and digital worlds...fully formed high fidelity 3D worlds that embrace mixed reality via AR/VR” and the inclusion of “a seamless digital economy”. They also note the “always on” nature of a metaverse. It is not like a video game in which you save progress and resume at the same point with nothing changed.
Two areas these research papers focus on are motion pictures, along with the major studios that make them, and advertising. This seems entirely sensible as it is likely this will be the spaces in which mainstream consumers become drawn into the/a metaverse. The research said that the motion picture industry is currently putting its focus on Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) - streaming, to the rest of us! Think of the likes of Netflix. Of the major studios, it appears Disney is taking things the most seriously. If nothing else, it has appointed a Chief Metaverse Officer. Something Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros. have not. This is logical if you consider the wider opportunities to utilise AR/VR technology that Disney has, such as in its theme parks. Either way, Enders Analysis argued that:
Engaging with major studios directly on the metaverse will remain challenging for the next 24 months; currently it is relegated to a licensing opportunity for studios who conflate crypto, NFTs, and games, without a broader strategy for audience engagement with franchises and immersive experiences.
However, Apple and Meta are, obviously, interested in this area too. Meta has a “multiyear partnership agreement” with NBCUniversal, which includes bringing the Peacock streaming service to Quest VR headsets. As for Apple, it is expected that we will see their first attempt at an AR/VR headset next year. While the research noted that Apple already has a longstanding relationship with Disney, it obviously also has content of its own now thanks to Apple TV+ and the Apple Arcade gaming service. Content will be crucial in convincing customers they should bother with headsets and metaverse-like experiences.
On the advertising side, the research argued that “metaverse advertising has the potential to be more effective than its real-world media counterpart,” and said that “large brands are clamouring to create branded experiences in virtual worlds.” While NFTs do not seem to be having a major impact beyond their niche, brand partnerships within gaming worlds are gaining some traction. However, researchers learned that “agencies reportedly charge tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to create in-game branded spaces, varying significantly depending on how extensive the campaign is.” The development of AI technology could help reduce the costs involved but this will take a bit of time.
Overall, my scepticism remains. While there are some obvious media environments in which consumers’ experiences could be improved or enhanced by metaverse-like technology, too much of what we have seen so far looks rather low-quality and unnecessary. I accept this gets said about almost every emerging technology.
Furthermore, consumers may come to expect more interactive media experiences, whether they are streaming content at home or at a theme park. It also seems likely that the big tech companies will be better able to provide such experiences than major studios, unless the latter adapt very quickly, something they do not exactly have a history of doing...