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Metaverse: Fad or a new digital world of opportunities for broadcasters?

By Shaun Lim

In a utopian future, billions of people inhabit immersive digital environments, spending most of their time working, socialising, and playing games inside virtual and augmented worlds.

If you were thinking of an imagined world out of a fictional novel, think again. Instead, the above describes the metaverse vision of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, who declared in 2021, “Metaverse isn’t a thing a company builds. It’s the next chapter of the internet overall.”

Since that proclamation however, the story has made for grim reading for Zuckerberg, with Meta continuing to lose billions of dollars on metaverse investments.

Yet, it may not be all doom and gloom for the metaverse, which could be a US$800 billion-dollar industry by 2024, research by Bloomberg in 2021 predicted.

Citing this figure in a new white paper, Access Partnership, a public policy firm dedicated to opening markets for technology, wrote, “The metaverse has the potential to facilitate accessibility from the comfort of people’s homes, breaking down boundaries and democratising access to key goods, services, knowledge, and experiences.”

Bondee, a new social networking app created by Singapore-based company Metadream Tech, for instance, is taking Asia by storm. In a metaverse setting, users can create 3D avatars to stimulate living and interacting in a digital community with friends.

Can the broadcast and media industry emulate the success of platforms like Bondee to introduce new content and strengthen relationships with their audience?

To enter the metaverse, broadcasters must consider ROI & interactivity 

While the white paper by Access Partnership looked at the possible use cases the metaverse can offer — primarily from a virtual reality (VR) perspective — in the areas of healthcare, enterprise, and education, it is clear that the jury is still out on the metaverse from a broadcast and media perspective.

While not dismissing the potential offered by metaverse offhand, Dr Ahmad Zaki Mohd Salleh, Director of Technical Operations, Media Prima, asked, “Can the metaverse improve my ROI?”

Examining the application of the metaverse through the lenses of augmented reality (AR) and VR, Dr Zaki told APB+, “From a cost perspective, AR and VR will reduce basic production costs for building sets and props. The turnaround time for studio usage will also improve because if studios are all based on green screens and virtual sets, back-to-back production can be carried out, improving studio utilisation and shortening production time.

“AR and VR will also bring new opportunities for sponsorships because sponsors can now advertise their products without facing the difficulty of actually bringing in the products. For example, car manufacturers can advertise their vehicles in virtual studios and property agents can conduct virtual tours of their real estate.”

On the other end of the scale, Dr Zaki highlighted the cost of procuring the hardware and software required to produce AR and VR elements in studios, while reminding broadcasters that technology is only as good or bad as the people using it.

He continued, “Any implementation of new technology must come with new skills and understanding. It will not be advantageous for anyone to acquire new technologies without providing the skills training and development for producers and artists.

“Investing in new technologies must be done with a clear and rational consideration and the ROI needs to be well understood.”

To fully harness the power of the metaverse, interactivity will be key as broadcasters take advantage of metaverse technologies to build relationships, particularly with younger viewers, said Stan Moote, CTO of IABM.

Speaking with APB+, he explained, “The potential for more viewership is strong and there are several revenue streams related to the metaverse. To better appreciate this, the key is to understand the drivers behind potential younger viewers.

“It isn’t about the metaverse specifically. Instead, it’s about wanting to be in a group or community with their friends. Pandemic lockdowns were actually a stronger driver that took hanging out together online to a much higher level beyond gaming.”

Operating in the metaverse will also require broadcasters to think of more interactive ways of telling stories, as Moote described, “Broadcasting is typically made for passive watching, so a new type of storytelling is needed in the 3D space.”

He was quick to distance this “3D space” from the brief sojourn 3DTV enjoyed in the consciousness of broadcasters in 2010, when a slew of 3DTV screens hit the market, driven largely by the popularity of Avatar.

While that 3D experience proved to be a short-lived one, the 3D space Moote refers to is about creating a world filled with interactivities. To build this world, broadcasters need to seek assistance with newer production styles and move away from just making TV programmes.

“When developing a new programme — not necessarily just a TV show — broadcasters must plan from day one, how the content will live across the metaverse, social platforms and TV. During the planning process, they should also have technology people in the room to provide assistance and guidance as to what is possible and practical,” said Moote.

With the wearing of 3D glasses contributing to many viewers’ refusal to accept 3DTV as a companion platform to consume content, it is also worth noting that the metaverse is not restricted to VR and what may amount to cumbersome headsets for some viewers.

As Access Partnerships noted in its white paper, the possibility remains that the metaverse will prompt the creation of completely new forms of technology. For instance, Disney has filed a patent with the US patent office for a virtual world simulator, which will incorporate 3D projections to create a virtual environment around multiple visitors without the need for headsets.

The example of Bondee, the social media app, is another example of how broadcasters can create a community of viewers and fans, starting with an element of gaming that does not require headsets to be used. 

Hardware aside, broadcasters will do well to take a leaf out of the gaming community’s book and focus on creating interactivity, Moote emphasised. “Broadcasters must pay attention to the current issues of network speeds and latency.

“Learning how to understand and respect the gaming world will also help to gain the trust of younger viewers and provide the all-important brand recognition required to keep these viewers.”

While 3DTV ultimately proved to be more hype than reality, broadcasters will continue to explore new technologies that can drive down operating costs and potentially give them an advantage in the race for eyeballs. 

Therefore, while questions will continue to be asked about the feasibility of metaverse in the broadcast and media space, broadcasters are likely to continue to explore the possibilities offered by the metaverse, as Parminder Singh, Chief Commercial Officer and Digital Officer, Mediacorp, told APB+, “Mediacorp has taken deep strides in exploring new digital technologies and assets across our multiple platforms, keeping pace with the vast and exciting potential that these may hold for our industry.

“We are currently in the midst of developing innovative solutions and strategies to harness the power of the metaverse and other emerging platforms and technologies for our clients, and will share them in due course.”

Watch this space …

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