The future of the entertainment industry

The future of the entertainment industry

As Meta laid off thousands of employees during the first quarter of 2023, including apparently large swathes of their virtual reality and web3 research teams, it would be easy to conclude that the metaverse is finished, at least for the foreseeable future. However, although Mark Zuckerberg’s big bet on the metaverse may not have gone as he wished, he could just be early.

Whatever it is called – web3, the metaverse, or virtual reality, the creation of immersive technology – permanent virtual worlds with fully featured economic systems – are very likely to play a substantial role in the future of humanity. One of the major attractions of virtual spaces for corporations is that, by definition, they are free of government interference. Once the consumer enters a metaverse, they exist in an environment wholly controlled by the creator of that world. And that world is not experienced through a screen, but immersively – it is literally all around you.

Therefore, no industry is more amenable to immersive tech than media and entertainment – an industry that is built on giving us experiences that are, to a greater or lesser degree, unreal. It is likely, therefore, that technological developments mean the coming decade or more force a convergence between various branches of the entertainment industry. While the traditional branches such as film, TV, music and live events have been gently converging for many decades, with commercial spin-offs, tie-ups and industry consolidation, this technological element will provide a new spur.

It is likely that within a decade we will see the first attempts at video game/film hybrid productions – where the opportunity exists to simply watch passively as an observer, or play through the action yourself – all captured in photorealistic graphics of course. This also raises the tantalising possibility of immersive technology being used to create themed metaverse’s (James Bond World anyone?), where the action never stops. The advantage of the metaverse is that it embodies what, in video games, is known as open world architectures – where there is no linear play-through, and each player’s experience is unique, depending on the choices they make. While some traditional games have been exploring these ideas for several decades – Second Life and EVE Online come to mind, the new technology could allow these ideas to be developed to their full potential.

It is easy to see that this could herald the final decline of the traditional movie star. After all, film production companies have long wished to see the back of the fussy, entitled, wildly expensive leading actors of Hollywood cinema, not to mention the potential to eliminate expensive on-location shoots. Virtual characters created entirely from code and wholly the property of their creator have a lot of advantages, financial and otherwise. While we shouldn’t hold our breath for the Best Actor Oscar to go to an ‘actor’ without a physical form, the idea may not seem impossible in a twenty years’ time. In a metaverse world, creating a marginal piece of content becomes much less expensive, because the underlying infrastructure – a permanent, fully featured world – is already built.

While the potential of the metaverse could be transformative for entertainment – wouldn’t everyone like to experience what its like to drive a Mercedes supercar around the Nurburgring, or hear Andrea Bocelli in St. Mark’s Square, perhaps the single company to watch with regard to assessing the progress of the metaverse is not Meta, or even Netflix. It is Disney. The House of Mouse has perhaps the strongest, most cohesive brand in entertainment – not for nothing are its locations referred to as ‘Disneyworlds’ – implying a degree of physical immersion almost no other brand can match. Disney is also heavily invested in its physical theme parks and holds a traditional media mindset – it is not technology-led. Although it is currently in a state of some turmoil, the company has not flourished for a century by being anything except a highly brand-focused corporation, embracing technological changes that suit its ends. The potential for a Disneyworld unbounded by the limitations of physical space, with infinite capacity, and no annoying governments to volunteer their opinion on its activities, seems at the very least to be a compelling idea for Disney. If (or when) Disney becomes convinced by the economics of the metaverse and starts to make a concerted effort to build out Disneyworld Digital, the rest of us can be assured that immersive technology is about to become very real.