Is the metaverse a boon for the entertainment industry?
Exclusive content for fans, new revenue channels for creators, immersive live experiences... Here's how sports leagues, musicians, artists and content creators can benefit from the metaverse and NFTs.
Last November, the NFL announced the launch of a new store, where fans will be able to buy official jerseys and helmets for all 32 teams. Nothing quite extraordinary, except that the store won’t be a physical one. It will be an online store, located in Roblox, a video game where users can build their own games and invite other players to play. Because players are represented by an avatar, can create collaborative content and jump between immersive virtual worlds, Roblox is often branded as the closest platform we currently have to the metaverse.
Since Mark Zuckerberg rebranded his company as Meta, the metaverse has been the internet’s new buzzword. According to Facebook’s founder, "you can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it. And you feel present with other people as if you were in other places, having different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2D app or webpage, like dancing, for example, or different types of fitness."
In terms of technological requirements, considering the amount of storage, processing and scalability that it will need, it is hard to imagine the metaverse happening without the resources of cloud computing. The metaverse will thus necessarily be cloud-based. Some companies have already started to target this marketing segment. Microsoft calls its own approach "MR," for mixed reality, while AWS has started using a metaverse-like game for cloud training.
By providing more speed and power, growing access to 5G will also help the development of the metaverse. That’s why many companies involved in 5G are betting on the metaverse, too. Qualcomm speaks of "XR," for extended reality. T-Mobile has partnered with NuEyes, a smart glasses company, to work on the metaverse. At the MWC Barcelona 2022, Meta highlighted three areas for the 5G and networking industry to work on, in order to bolster the metaverse: network latency reduction, symmetrical bandwidth advancement, and overall network speed acceleration.
As we can see, the future of the metaverse is usually described as involving AR and VR technologies, thus becoming a realistic simulation of our world, where users can do all kinds of cool stuff, like in the movie Ready Player One. However, you can also have a metaverse without these technologies, as long as you have a community of players collaborating to create content, playing games and taking part in all kinds of social activities, whether it’s socializing at a virtual bar, going to a concert or a virtual sports game, and many more.
The gaming part is particularly important, as it provides users with a sense of focus, without which the metaverse would just be boring. Think about Second Life, where the only purpose was basically to be there and socialize, and about how quickly it lost its users once the novelty wore off. Now, compare this to Fortnite, which gives users a focus through its battle royal concept, and thus provides them with an excuse to socialize and hang out with their friends. When done right, the metaverse is the modern equivalent of the bowling alley: somewhere where you can have fun, but where this fun is also a pretext to hang out with people.
A fun metaverse will logically provide some interesting opportunities for the entertainment industry, first and foremost by offering some new revenue channels. Let’s start with the music industry. Over the last few years, it has become harder and harder to make a living as a musician, as platforms such as Spotify don’t pay much unless you manage to get millions of listeners. But also more difficult to break into the music industry, because these platforms select titles based on rhythmic curation rather than individual tastes.
By providing musicians with the opportunity to do online concerts, and also to enrich the musical experience of their fans through new types of online experience, the metaverse could change that. “Take The Wave XR, for example. They are specialized in interactive virtual live concerts. These are beautiful, rich experiences, where you can engage with your friends and musicians can see messages from the audience while performing,” says Mike Fischer, a professor of interactive media at the University of Southern California who led a study on entertainment & the metaverse.
Add non-fungible tokens, these non-interchangeable units of data stored on a blockchain, and you get even more monetization options. Musicians could sell their songs directly to their fans, as NFTs. They could, as the American band King of Leon did, sell some copies of their new album as NFTs, that would come with unique perks such as free concert tickets, a collector version of the physical record or some extra bonus tracks.
Being part of something bigger
This is, of course, not limited to the music industry. A writer has sold a chapter of her new book as an NFT for $400. The NBA uses NFTs to sell fans some video clips of their favorite players, and some NBA-licensed digital items, while all 20 Premier League clubs are looking at launching NFTs to sell collectible historical memorabilia to fans.
While it may seem trivial, it definitely isn’t. When I was a kid, I was given one share in the company that owned my favorite ice hockey team, as a Christmas present. And I still have that share, even though the company sold the hockey team a hundred years ago! Because it made me feel like I was somehow the owner, or one of the owners of the team. NFTs thrive on this feeling, the idea that you’re part of something bigger.
Enhanced sports games
But the metaverse also provides the entertainment industry with the opportunity to design enhanced immersive experiences. As Jeff Burke, Associate Dean for Technology and Innovation at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television puts it, “the metaverse foregrounds the notion of the viewer’s identity/avatar/presence as being relevant – rather than being users/viewers at a terminal, we are within the content, or at least adjacent to it. So I think the most interesting use cases are those that start to make the viewer’s presence relevant to the experience.”
We already mentioned concerts where the audience can interact directly with the artist, but it could go far beyond. Take sports, for example. Tomorrow, you could be able to watch a VR version of a game, so that you can hang out with your friends while watching it virtually, in the metaverse, but also move around the field and benefit from additional virtual content. Nowadays, when you watch sports on TV, you’re provided with replays in 3D, while the announcer moves around the space, explaining why that player did this, how it allowed another one to do that…
Soon, we may have that in the metaverse in real-time, and you’ll be able to move around the scene to look at it from every possible angle. But also to pick your camera to watch the game from the middle of the field, or through the eyes of your favorite player… This way, watching a game in the metaverse could become even cooler than watching it in person.
Finally, the metaverse also provides the entertainment industry with a unique opportunity to imagine some new forms of collaborative content. From its headquarters in New York, the company Genvid is creating what it calls MILEs or Massively Interactive Live Events. They offer a mix between a movie and a multiplayer video game. “These are video streams where millions of people can watch, play, and participate together, affecting the story, characters, worlds or gameplay,” explains Jacob Navok, CEO of Genvid Technologies.
“The technologies that make this possible are a combination of game engines, live video, and interactive overlays. We synchronize the game engine data to the video feed, and through the overlay, allow you and others to impact it. Video scales to millions, and as a result, we are able to have many more people participate in a singular experience than would be possible in traditional multiplayer.”
The company recently launched Pac-Man Community with Facebook, which features the ability to play instantly with friends and challenge users around the world, interact with video streams and join the stream of a person you are watching. In two months, it gathered over 4 million players, and users have created over 12,000 mazes for the community to play.
This kind of massively multiplayer applications will thrive with the help of edge computing. They will require high speed processing (even more so if you add AR or VR in the balance) and it will therefore be crucial to bring computation as close as possible to the sources of data.
The next stage of surveillance capitalism?
While the metaverse isn’t quite there yet, particularly if we add AR and VR to the mix, it is already raising some privacy concerns. Will it lead to some new privacy issues around the mining and monetizing of personal data? Will surveillance capitalism go to the next level with the movements of our avatars and all kinds of haptic data being gathered and used for marketing purposes? With all this new data available, marketing companies could learn to read our emotions with an unprecedented level of precision, knowing the exact moment when we’re ready to buy something and targeting us with ads at this strategic point…
According to Jeff Burke, however, because these situations will be more similar to what we experience in the real world, we could be more aware that we’re being manipulated, and thus more cautious. “While the issues may feel new, they may just be easier for users to grasp than in the Web 2.0 context. We are already tracked in virtual space, real space, with haptic data (location services and other mobile data, the possibility of eye tracking, etc.). So while the data may be different, I don’t think the privacy concerns are that different at the root – but because they will have a clearer physical analogy, user perception of them will be different and perhaps the privacy concerns more apparent.”
You’re invited to more thought experiments on this topic by reading the Atos Scientific Community report, “Unlocking Virtual Dimensions.” If you’re ready to dive in now: