How the metaverse is blurring the lines between TV, theater and gaming

As part of The Drum’s Metaverse Deep Dive, we hear from the film, TV, theater and gaming industries about the opportunity to bring these worlds together.

Pan-industry collaboration is needed to seize the fruitful opportunities the metaverse is set to bring to the entertainment market.

Garry Williams of production company Unit9 calls it the new major broadcast medium, saying: ”First, there was print, then the radio, TV, internet and, now, the metaverse.”

A swathe of metaverse-related TV shows are already gaining traction, such as Alter Ego and sci-fi NFT series GenZeroes from Van Helsing actor Aleks Paunovic. In film, VX producers are using metaverse technology and software developer Unreal Engine to create 3D assets.

Theater companies have been on the cutting edge of developing immersive entertainment, says Williams, calling the National Theatre a “trailblazer when it comes to introducing immersive technology”.

John Cassy is the founder of immersive entertainment studio Factory 42. He says innovation in this space has led to the “blending of the boundary between gaming, TV, and film”.

Cassy’s team – which recently executed The Green Planet immersive experience – comprises triple-A computer game coders, software developers, art leads, architects, experiential producers and TV execs. “It’s a real mixture of people coming together – an amazing creative challenge and quite painful at times as everyone has to work out how each other works.”

He says: “You need incredibly strong technologists, but you need massively good storytellers and people who understand audiences. If you can combine those things together then you have a really good shot at making something engaging that audiences will be prepared to give their time and money to.”

Theater and the metaverse go hand-in-hand

There is a natural alignment between live theater and how you develop in virtual reality says Toby Coffey, the head of digital development for the National Theatre. “The whole creative team working in theater is used to working in a 360 environment. In the theater, every audience member has their own unique view and everyone working in it knows that and has to create accordingly.

“People from the theater industry just naturally step into the immersive world and don’t necessarily find these new methods as an obstacle but a huge opportunity.”

Coffey leads the Immersive Storytelling Studios at the National Theatre and has shepherded VR productions including Wonder.Land and All Kinds of Limbo. He tells The Drum that he can conceive a version of the National Theatre in the metaverse, but questions what that might look like. Would it take the form of a digital incarnation of the building on the Southbank or be something entirely new?

And when it comes to monetization, Coffey says “the distribution and financial models are still in development,” but adds many of the ways to monetize in the metaverse are the same traditional methods such as ticket sales, advertising and memberships.

Gen Z might be driving virtual spaces, but in theater Coffey says it is watched by all demographics: “There is a real danger in this type of work to direct it to a particular audience, but we shouldn’t assume it’s just for young people.”

Is the metaverse needed to sustain TV audiences?

For the commercial arm of UK broadcaster ITV, the metaverse is now an integral part of its long-term strategy to retain younger audiences. Its digital partnerships controller Pathman Ruthirapathy says: “The metaverse isn’t a little experiment that is short term. It’s for us to deliver against our wider TV strategy in both commercial and where we think the future lies.”

ITV acquired Metavision in 2021 and had its first foray into the space with a John Lewis/I’m a Celebrity play in Fortnite and Ruthirapathy says the acquisition “validates” everything the broadcaster is trying to do.

“The metaverse isn’t a vanity project for ITV, it’s something we think is right from a commercial perspective. This is a calculated and thoughtful look into what the future might be for our audiences.”

Film franchises and NFTs

Nick Pringle, the senior vice-president and executive creative director at R/GA London, says film companies are leveraging the metaverse to create “deeper franchise immersion“.

He says the metaverse provides the opportunity for franchises to be gamified and monetized through NFTs, pointing to examples such as the Matrix franchise selling 100,000 avatar NFTs at $50 each and the Warner Bros/Roblox partnership that has seen the Master Moley animation launch a Welcome to Moletown game in Roblox, as well as the In The Heights musical launching with a Roblox party.

For more on the exciting new opportunities for marketers in this rapidly evolving space, check out The Drum’s Metaverse hub.