Reel to virtual reality – The Financial Express

The Financial Express
In 1997, Canadian filmmaker James Cameron fantastically shot the ship-sinking sequence of Titanic in the movie with the same name. He made the audience believe that he had actually sunk a huge ship and captured the drowning sequence in the ocean. In reality, however, the entire sequence was filmed in a swimming pool and in front of green screens. The effects for the film were produced by Cameron’s brainchild, Digital Domain, a visual effects and digital production company.
When Cameron came back with his 2009 magnum opus Avatar, he introduced global cinema to recording techniques such as ‘performance capture’ and ‘3D camera filming’ through Digital Domain. He used computer generated images to construct his imaginary world and created a virtual monitor to allow the director to see the ‘motion capture’ results in real-time, while they were being filmed. Cameron has always been way ahead of his times and, with each of his masterpieces, he created a new space for experimentation.
Now more than a decade later, films in the metaverse are what was attempted in Avatar back then. In the film, Jake Sully is sent to Pandora as an avatar, (Na’vi-human hybrids) that resembles the Na’vi (blue skinned sapient humanoids). Today, much like an avatar, anyone can enter the world of metaverse and interact with other metaverse visitors and objects and have immersive experiences.
Digital Domain, which was purchased by an affiliate of Wyndcrest Holdings, a private holding company in 2006, continues to build a strong foundation for films in the metaverse. Its CEO Daniel Seah had earlier said that the company aims to be the “foundation of the metaverse by creating digital avatars for end consumers”.
As films in the metaverse draw close to reality globally, several leading production houses are making a headstart in this direction. In India, when one of the most prominent production houses ventured into metaverse, one knew the meta world would soon materialise onscreen.
Also Read: Blockbuster business: How OTTs are cashing in on hit films with pay-per-view options
Film producer Vashu Bhagnani’s production house Pooja Entertainment and Films Limited (PEFL) recently became one of the first production majors in India to purchase land in the metaverse and named the space ‘Poojaverse’, where makers will create first-of-its-kind quality immersive experiences for viewers. They recently announced the project, Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, starring Akshay Kumar and Tiger Shroff, which will be helmed in Poojaverse and that will release in 2023.
Jackky Bhagnani, actor, producer and managing director of Pooja Entertainment, credits his sister Deepshikha Deshmukh for the acquisition. The production house will be partnering with Bollywood virtual metaverse space Bollyverse to make films in metaverse. Bhagnani says, “Our combined aim is to create immersive experiences in the field of music, branding, using metanomics to solidify direct interactions with audiences. We are very happy and proud to be the first company to buy land on metaverse, and also the first ones to put out our teaser of Bade Miya Chote Miyan on metaverse.”
He adds that the metaverse is no longer a futuristic idea but one that’s already started bearing shape and taking a form that’s ever evolving. “Companies like us and Walmart, Nike, Gap, Hulu, Adidas, and many others who own a lot of IPs will play a huge role in this. From releasing trailers and songs, watching a film, experiencing games based on movies, online competitive gaming, interactive augmented reality and use of VR to experience cinema, our limits will be limitless,” he adds.
Cinema scope
Market research report provider Technavio’s report titled Metaverse in Entertainment Market by End-user and Geography — Forecast and Analysis 2022-2026 that came out in May this year suggests that the metaverse in the entertainment market share is expected to increase to $28.92 billion by 2026 at an accelerating CAGR of 8.55% with the key consumer countries being US, Canada, China, UK, and Germany. The report further suggests that one of the key factors driving the global metaverse in entertainment market growth is the rising consumer spending across virtual concerts, events, and others. “The media and entertainment business in India reached $19 billion in 2020, according to the India Brand Equity Foundation Organisation (IBEF), and is predicted to reach $25.9 billion by 2023. Immersive technologies such as AR and VR, for example, are evolving at a rapid pace and reached around $128.36 billion in 2020, according to the department for culture, digital, media, and sport in the UK,” states the report as it talks about contributing factors to the growth of the market.
Metaverse is an evolving, expanding continuum that is expected to transform every aspect of business from consumer to worker and across the entire enterprise, feels Neeraj Sharma, managing director — communications, media and technology, Accenture, India. He says, “Movies can organise promotional activities in metaverse or streaming services can provide sample content in 2D or 3D in metaverse among many other possibilities. Movies and streaming services can also experiment with better integration of immersive experiences in today’s storytelling.” According to Sharma, with the evolution of digital technologies and smart devices, we will see the creation of many such hyperconnected environments and omnichannel entertainment options that span physical theatres, streaming platforms, or even metaverses and beyond.
Polygon-backed Web3 entertainment company eDAO was incubated to leverage opportunities in this space. Ananda Venkateswaran, CEO and co-founder, eDAO, feels that metaverse is a natural next step for Bollywood as it represents a new, global market (people in the NFT and crypto space), as well as offers an unparalleled experience for entertainment enthusiasts. “From projects like KGF, Rudra, and Radhe Shyam, which have all attempted to take their place in the metaverse, we’ve seen the world of Web3 take its place in the entertainment space. Viewers have an enhanced new-age experience where they watch a movie in the metaverse and interact and communicate with their favourite stars in an avatar in virtual space,” he says.
With newer firms in the space on the rise and newer industries debuting in the metaverse, the market is set to experience an exponential growth.
A July report by Grand View Research, estimates that the global metaverse market is slated to amass $678.8 billion by 2030 and that the market is likely to register a CAGR of 39.4% during the forecast period due to the surging demand from various industries like education, media and entertainment, defence, and aerospace.
Money matters
While films are made at small and gigantic budgets, one wonders what the cost would be in the metaverse. For one, roping in new technology and experts for a metaverse experience would be expensive but it is also likely to cut down production costs, travelling expenses as the film can be shot in a studio with any background made possible through metaverse.
GuardianLink, the firm that was behind Asia’s first metaverse wedding last year, has expressed possibilities of teaming up with theatres and production houses for metaverse film experiences. However, Ramkumar Subramaniam, CEO & co-founder, GuardianLink feels that it might be difficult to get hands on the technology without shelling out a lot of money, it is quite possible that films might be shot completely in the metaverse to reduce production costs when it becomes more accessible. “GuardianLink hopes to be in the forefront partnering with either celebrities or production houses or even multiplex corporations to explore possibilities with NFTs for the cine industry. As of now, the metaverse usually consists of avatars that look like 3-D animations. It might not be as close as it is to the real image, but it is the closest that a person can get to with respect to their digital presence without compromising on their actual identity,” he says adding, “While there have been a lot of Hollywood films that have made their entry into the metaverse, Bollywood is yet to make a dent in that space.”
The question of what comes first — investment or engagement — also prods one. The acceptability and reach of the platform have still not been tested. Will everyone be able to access the metaverse, how much will it cost for the common man, will everyone understand the technology — are some pertinent questions being raised. Venkateswaran of eDAO says that the talent and the producers need to take a leap of faith and spend a little time and resources in testing the waters and engaging with a new demographic of fans. Building out entire metaverses is a capital-intensive route with too much uncertainty. “This is where eDAO comes in. We not only build synergies between like-minded creators but also create design-focused, bite-sized projects for large brands, celebrities, and fan communities,” he adds.
Jackky Bhagnani adds that the filmmaking process will only be slightly different — films will continue to be made the way they are, this is just a format like how we have a TV, digital and a theatrical format co-existing. “Metaverse is expected to reach $1 trillion in yearly revenues and entertainment will be a prime part of it,” he says.
Metaverse vs OTT
Back in 2008, Reliance Entertainment had launched the first Indian OTT platform BIGFlix after Netflix went OTT in 2007. Back then, there were reservations about the future of streaming services but in the post-pandemic world, OTTs have gained a strong foothold as household entertainment mediums. Now as films in the metaverse become a reality, the question arises if it will give competition to OTT platforms? Or will the metaverse converge into OTTs to bring the users an enhanced experience as was done when Netflix made its entry into the Decentraland metaverse to give a Web3 twist to the promotion of Netflix film The Gray Man?
Since the boom of the OTT market, competitive subscription models have been brought forward. In the case of metaverse, the pricing, type of subscription model and ease of accessibility that OTTs bring along is yet to be seen. Making the platform accessible to masses will be another challenge; however, it is likely to be overcome. When we reached out to OTT platforms to check if films in the metaverse will pose a threat to OTTs, most of them declined to comment.
Nitin Mittal, president — technology and data, ZEE, told us that OTT and metaverse are not necessarily mutually exclusive. “The value proposition of OTT compared to OTA was of convenience and choice. You could now consume the content of your choice on demand, on screens of all sizes, even when on the move. Metaverse’s value proposition is experiential. Metaverse combines the physical and virtual worlds to create an unprecedented immersive universe for the consumer. The value proposition of the metaverse is not a substitute for OTT; rather it is complementary,” he explains.
Mittal believes that both OTTs and the metaverse will coexist. “The emergence of OTT platforms half a decade ago was a result of the 4G revolution, lower data costs and convenience in content consumption allowing audiences to watch movies and shows while on-the-go. However, in the last couple of years, we have seen the entertainment industry undergo a significant transition led primarily by the digital transformation, bringing in a 180-degree shift from how traditional physical businesses were designed and how business was done,” he adds.
Mittal reveals that metaverse is a new opportunity for ZEE to extend their mission of entertaining consumers. “We expect that the immersive, avatar-driven experience of metaverse will entertain and delight our consumers. The new ZEE Technology and Innovation Centre brings the relevant skills and resources to help us enter the Web 3 universe. As a step towards creating our metaverse, we are currently piloting our NFT model with a small cohort of consumers,” he shares.
Confirming that ZEE is all set for a metaverse world, he says that it will bring a combination of physical and virtual ecosystem in a new universe. “We foresee existing platforms scaling up the business further. However, only the platforms which are successful in adopting as well as offering AR/VR capabilities in a quick-paced manner will outperform their competitors,” says Mittal, adding that currently, they are in the process of piloting the NFT model with a small cohort, and this will expand in the coming quarter.
As for the commercial model of metaverse films, Ramkumar Subramaniam feels it might be a bit too early to speculate on the commercial model that they will follow. “Unless we have an abundance of films launched in the metaverse, the possibilities of a subscription model similar to OTT platforms are quite bleak,” he says. He refuses to call it a direct competition between the two for now but says that when people want the experience of a movie theatre in the comfort and confines of their homes and if they would like to binge watch movies with friends in different corners of the world, it is quite likely that OTT and metaverse firms will be competitors. Sharing plans for Poojaverse, Jackky Bhagnani says they will create a space for immersive, digital and interactive experiences by bringing their IPs into this space. “We can interact with our favourite celebrities as well as get immersed with meta humans to explore facets of the verse.
The audiences we cater to will differ and we can make content for them accordingly.”
Future ready
In October 2021, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced that his company will be called ‘Meta’ going forward, unlocking the door to an untapped potential of the virtual world. Metaverse is still at a very nascent stage in India and a strong foundation will take years to build but the change is anyway coming.
This year, IIFA became the first international Indian award show that was held in metaverse. So, what lies ahead? Metaverse will not just be limited to production houses, but major theatre groups are also studying how metaverse can be used with their existing set-up.
Gautam Dutta, CEO, PVR Limited says that the PVR group is currently researching how they can utilise the technology in theatre experiences and once the detailed studies are done, then a decision will be made. “Films could become so democratic that it might even feature one of the fans as a metaverse avatar in a rule that mandates that they talk to their favourite hero,” Subramaniam signs off.
(Source: ‘Metaverse in Entertainment Market by End-user and Geography – Forecast and Analysis 2022-2026’, a report by Technavio)
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