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Disney pushes ahead with metaverse ambitions - appoints exec to oversee strategy

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez February 16, 2022
In a memo sent out to employees, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said that the metaverse will create a new paradigm for audiences to engage with stories.

An image of the Disney logo
(Image sourced via Disney website)

The Walt Disney Company is pushing ahead with its metaverse ambitions, as CEO Bob Chapek this week informed staff via email that he has hired a senior executive to oversee its ambitions. 

Mike White, an executive in the Media and Entertainment Distribution Group, will take on the newly created role of SVP of Next Generation Storytelling and Consumer Experiences, according to the memo seen by Reuters. White will work alongside Disney's creative teams and work to define how audiences experience the company's blending of physical and virtual worlds. 

The news follows CEO Bob Chapek's recent comments to analysts that the metaverse is ‘top of mind' for Disney's future, as the company continues to embrace digital tools and distribution methods to enhance its storytelling. 

In the email to employees, Chapek said: 

For nearly 100 years, our company has defined and redefined entertainment by leveraging technology to bring stories to life in deeper, more impactful ways.

Today, we have an opportunity to connect those universes and create an entirely new paradigm for how audiences experience and engage with our stories.

White has extensive experience in the technology industry, having previously worked as CTO for Apollo Group, and having spent a decade at Yahoo. 

Companies pitch for stake in the metaverse

Since Meta (previously Facebook) announced its ambitions for the Metaverse, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg declaring that virtual worlds and experiences are going to be guiding the company, many organizations in the industry have now stepped up their own metaverse ambitions. 

For instance, Microsoft has outlined how it sees it having a platform and infrastructure role in the metaverse, as well as through the use of applications within Teams and Dynamics 365. CEO Satya Nadella recently said: 

The first place where we see this is the increasing digitization of people, places, and things to be able to really help businesses automate processes to the next level. Today, between Azure IoT, Digital Twins, and Mesh, we have many examples where customers are engaged with us. So that's what will show up in Azure, and we're investing significantly there.

Up the stack, I would say, Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces. That's a solution that's in preview today. That's about really being able to take a retail space or a connected factory or a building and essentially create a complete new software category, which is about managing physical processes. Just like CRM and ERP and supply chain management, we now have a suite, which is all driven by connected spaces, which is going to automate physical processes.

Teams is going to have Mesh meetings or these immersive meetings, which will start, first of all, on 2D screens, whether it's PCs or phones, and then lead up to even immersive experiences if you wear your VR or AR goggles. So that's another place.

And then, of course, gaming, that will be a natural place for us…

Meanwhile, where Disney's pitch comes in, is blending its storytelling capabilities with metaverse experiences. CEO Bob Chapek, off the back of a strong set of digitally-driven results last week, told analysts: 

It is absolutely top of mind because we realize that in the future, you can call it what you want…you want to call it metaverse, you can call it the blending of the physical and digital experiences…I think Disney should excel at [this]. We realize that it's going to be less of a passive type experience where you just have playback whether it's a sporting event or whether it's an entertainment offering and more of an interactive lean forward, actively engaged type experience.

And this is a very top of mind thing for us because we are continuing over time to augment our skills and the types of people that we attract into The Walt Disney Company to reflect the aggressive and ambitious technology agenda that we have.

My take

First of all, it's worth noting that the metaverse is currently very much in a marketing hype phase of development. Stocks are being traded and investments are being made very much on the ‘idea' of what is possible, without much evidence of any real success to date. In fact, it could be argued that all of us are engaging in some way in a metaverse already, given our daily interactions with digital experiences. 

However, companies and technology leaders clearly believe that the technology will take us further into these virtual worlds and they will become more immersive and experience-led. Whether or not there is consumer interest - beyond maybe use cases such as gaming - or whether users even have the time to spend in a whole other realm, remains to be seen. 

That being said, if we accept that the metaverse is going to become a reality in the near future, then I do think that Disney has one of the strongest opportunities for success. And I say that for a couple of reasons. 

Firstly, Disney has already proven it can find success in its business model by blending physical and virtual experiences - where the storytelling fits best. For instance, it's parks are utilizing technology to enhance the physical experience. Also, it is making choices about how to deliver content in the cinema or via streaming, depending on the type of content. 

The central part to all of this is that storytelling sits at the core of its strategy. Figuring out where physical and digital work best for the consumer, depending on the content and the story bein told. And as we've said time and time again, content is king. 

And let's not forget that Disney works with some of the most qualified animators in the business. 

If Disney can figure out how to effectively tell stories in the metaverse, at the quality it tells stories across other platforms, then it could become quite a compelling proposition. In my mind, there's actually a use case here, which is more than can be said for some of the other organizations pushing the promise of the metaverse. 

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