Punjabi singer Daler Mehndi has always attracted big crowds. This January, when he had his debut concert in the metaverse, 20 million people logged in at once, crashing the servers. The event was held on PartyNite, one of India’s first metaverse spaces. With this, Mehndi became the first Indian artiste to join the likes of Travis Scott, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, who have all had concerts in the metaverse.
In May, media and entertainment (M&E) major Zee inaugurated its Technology and Innovation Centre in Bengaluru, which brings together the relevant skills and resources to help it enter the Web 3.0 universe. Called ‘Zeeverse’, it is expected to be launched early next year. “Our metaverse will not only facilitate a new way of consuming and engaging with content, but also create new interactive social and commercial experiences within. It will combine the physical and digital experiences for our audiences,” says Nitin Mittal, President of Technology and Data at Zee Entertainment Enterprises. In June, telecom major Airtel launched a metaverse multiplex—a 20-screen platform where it plans to offer content from leading OTT partners.
It’s not just media and telecom companies that are flocking to the metaverse. GSK Consumer Healthcare’s antacid brand ENO, for instance, has created India’s first-ever stand-up comedy event there to celebrate 50 years of its presence in India.
For the entertainment industry specifically, the metaverse provides a unique opportunity to imagine new forms of collaborative content. “India’s M&E industry will be worth Rs 4.3 lakh crore by 2026, according to a report by global consulting firm PwC. The metaverse could soon become a stunningly virtual real world, with individuals accessing new immersive experiences,” says Ranga Jagannath, Senior Director of Growth at Agora, a real-time engagement platform based in Santa Clara, California.
From gaming to music and movies, there are already several instances where the metaverse has been leveraged by the M&E sector. Sreeram Ananthasayanam, Partner at Deloitte India, explains the primary reason behind this adoption. “Almost 27 per cent of the global population is born after 1997. Known as GenZ, this cohort is largely digital native. With an average online time of 8-9 hours per day, it is estimated that they will constitute 40 per cent of the workforce by 2030 and about 8 per cent of their disposable income would be spent online, wherein experience would be a key differentiator in customer engagement,” he says, adding that their digital proficiency “dictates that the entertainment industry leverage innovative channels to effectively reach out to them, and technologies like the metaverse fit the bill”.
However, creating a metaverse experience isn’t easy and requires advanced technologies and investments. For instance, PartyNite took two and a half years in the making. “A lot is going on under the hood which enables the platform today, such as blockchain, communication layer, AI-based avatar creation system, AI-based animations and many more,” explains Rajat Ojha, its CEO and Founder. Echoes Ashish Pherwani, EY India Media & Entertainment Leader, “Creating an immersive metaverse virtual experience is a complex process as it is a convergence of six technology layers. These layers are AI and spatial computing, IoT and haptics, cloud platform, blockchain and cryptocurrency, extended reality and wearables, and high-speed network infrastructure.”
Yahoo Creative Studios, the branded content studio at Verizon Media, produced an immersive set for singer-songwriter Nina Nesbitt, turning her into an avatar. Using motion capture technology, it brought her performance to life in the metaverse. “We have state-of-the-art studios... [that] are equipped with smart stages and volumetric capture capabilities, enabling us to deliver first-in-class virtual production and immersive experiences for the metaverse,” says Zoe Cocker, Head of Brand and Yahoo Creative Studios, ANZ. Along with the technology, the metaverse also requires high-bandwidth connectivity to deliver a seamless experience.
Metaverse as a technology is still in its infancy; yet it has witnessed keen interest across the entertainment industry in India. The industry is carefully analysing the shift as many of the investments into the space are stuck because of a lack of clarity on the regulatory framework. Industry players say that the government often comments on these new-age technologies, which creates anxiety among Web 3.0 players. “Whether it’s NFT or metaverse, it creates anxiety because the government is still not taking a firm stand,” says Kamal Gianchandani, CEO of PVR Pictures and Chief of Strategy of PVR Ltd. Because of this uncertainty, the ecosystem hasn’t fully evolved, he adds. Another big constraint, he explains, is that the monetisation piece is not very clear. “Our business is pay-per-view. We’re not like a streaming platform, which will take a subscription fee and then offer you all the content. Hence, it is important that we should have the ability to charge consumers for every visit, for every view. [The metaverse] has not evolved to that extent where you are in a position to do that.”
Plus, to experience the full potential of the metaverse, one has to wear virtual reality (VR) headsets like the Quest from Meta, which are priced on the higher side. That’s a reason why Indian companies are working towards bringing metaverse experiences on web browsers and even smartphones.
“A true metaverse is immersive and three-dimensional. But this requires specialised hardware, which may not be accessible to all our consumers just yet. So we are creating our metaverse to be experienced in two dimensions as well,” says Zee’s Mittal.
Industry leaders are also worried about the security of the content. But even with so much to worry about and seek clarity on, the entertainment industry is attracted to the metaverse in just the same way a kid is charmed by a shiny new toy.
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