M+E Daily

ViacomCBS Futurist: Why the Metaverse Matters to Hollywood

The media and entertainment industry continues to adopt augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) and find new uses for these technologies but most M&E companies have not exactly been embracing the technologies at a rapid rate, according to Ted Schilowitz, futurist in residence at ViacomCBS.

“I’ve now made this point sort of philosophically across my work life and the people that I’ve been interfacing with, largely remotely over the last couple of years just like we all have across the planet, that the metaverse is a nice, crystallized word that allows us to find a place to start from, he said during the opening keynote, “Why the Metaverse Matters to Hollywood” at the Introducing the MESAverse event on Oct. 21.

“But when you think about what’s really been going on with technology over the last few generations… a little over 40 years, we have been building our way to this interconnected world using technology and using technology tools to allow things like video chat to become ubiquitous,” in addition to texting, email and “being able to share information across social networks and all of the pros and cons and baggage of that,” he explained.

“The raw technology that has been developed to allow this to happen and make this viable, extraordinarily cost-effective and useful across an entire spectrum of industries and an entire spectrum of life… from just the sort of productivity side of your life, the social side of your life, the friend side of your life, the gaming and interactive side of your life [and] the entertainment side of your life.”

As the futurist in residence at ViacomCBS, Schilowitz focuses on leading edge technologies that will integrate across the company on both a creative and operational level. He’s spent the last few years studying how AR and VR will transform the storytelling experience and also drive new conversations with executives charged with aligning the creative’s vision with the latest tools and technologies to create amazing content and distributing it around the world.

He visited the MESAverse in a candid conversation about the industry’s adoption of these technologies and was interviewed by Sinan Al-Rubaye, chief experience officer at software development studio ICVR.

The Origin of the Word

“The word metaverse, as a word… comes from a science-fiction author I know well and am friends with,” Neil Stephenson, who wrote a book called Snow Crash, Schilowitz noted. “He came up with that word to define this sort of multi-connected universe where people are doing what we all had to do” as a result of the “forcing agent of the pandemic,” Schilowitz said.

Some people, like  Schilowitz and Al-Rubaye, were already in the metaverse even before the pandemic, Schilowitz noted, “living in these worlds and experimenting with the ideas of what connected communication could be on what we refer to as traditional screens – computer screens, laptops, mobile phones – and advanced, always-on spatial screens like virtual reality devices and mixed reality devices,” he said.

“Just wait till you see what’s coming for the broad stroke of people,” he told viewers, noting he and Al-Rubaye had experimented with this tech “in terms of spatial meetings and  spatial connectivity, where we feel like we’re actually in a space together,” he said.

“Today, we’re using a two-dimensional video version,” he said, noting this is “largely accepted around the world.”

Reaching the Holodeck

But “the new thing that’s coming and starting to crack the code in terms of consumerization is what happens beyond this type of screen, when we start to feel like it’s really happening to us,” he explained.

“If I make a reference to  our ViacomCBS universe and our Paramount universe, this starts to become the understanding of how do we get to the holodeck in the world of Star Trek? And, in some ways, we’re there right now. We’re sort of getting there,” he said.

“The beauty of something like this is that you can’t define it and you can’t really put limitations on it,” he said, predicting it will “evolve and grow just like any other technology.” It’s like the first time that we signed onto AOL, he said, also recalling the first time he signed onto CompuServe before AOL.

That has “evolved over sort of generations and generations of the tech stack being built and an understanding of where business opportunities exist, social opportunities exist, entertainment opportunities exist, and you start to sort of grow this thing into something that becomes way more valuable than the sum of its parts,” he said.

Just Like Linking Our Cities

And “having a word that we can refer to that gives us an understanding of the sum of its parts gives us the opportunity to do many, many, many things,” he noted. He compared it to the U.S. interstate highway system that “was a dream at one point in the political landscape X amount of years ago.”

He explained: “Someone said we should start thinking about how we can connect all of these cities in the United States and allow people to travel easily, and that became effectively the new United States, and it was largely formed by the ability to have an interstate highway system and then, of course, other forms of travel – air travel and so forth dropped on top of that, which is sort of like what the metaverse does.”

In the M&E world today, he said: “We see what Epic Games is doing. We see what a lot of the web companies are doing. We see what a lot of the entertainment companies are doing, and we see what the social media companies are doing, and they’re all combining and finding ways to kind of layer on top of each other and that starts to actually define this idea of the metaverse that it should be, by its nature and by its essence, transportable. You should be able to move from place to place, just like if you own more than one computer these days, you can open that up, and you can log into your credentials, and you essentially have a duplicate of your computer in multiple places and your phone is a duplicate of your desktop computer or your tablet. The understanding of where we’re going with the metaverse allows that as well.”

But the technology is being taken “one step further because we start to build a unique presence using our physical body in some cases,” he said, pointing out: “We built two different metaverse avatars… in just five minutes, before we started this talk today. And we could swap them out… if you wanted to at some point.”

In his role at a large media company, he is tasked with trying to figure out where
“we fit into this equation,” he said.

Schilowitz sees the adoption of reality technologies, “like most progress made in the technology world,” as a “slow and steady, continual evolution that has been built over many, many years and many, many layers of understanding the capabilities of the technology,” he went on to say.

Noting that they were each using Zoom and Rendezvous simultaneously, he said the “interoperability” of everything “so seamlessly” did not just happen overnight. People who have not tracked this tech closely, however, feel like this tech is suddenly exploding, he noted.

Game companies have already been working in the 3D world and other M&E companies can learn from that sector, he said.

The Battlefield

We already started to see concerts in these avatar universes also, along with movie premieres and social gatherings, he noted.

However, it is “largely a battlefield right now,” he said, explaining: “It’s a battle between the desire of corporations and individuals to find an open standard and an open way to move from place to place and the practicality and the functional, profitable dynamics of how do you run a company, keep the lights on, have the employees work on all this and find ways to generate revenue and profit within your world as well as be able to allow others to enter. [But] it’s always been a constant battle. Whatever technology we work on.”

Although a universal sign-on solution between all companies and platforms would make adoption and implementation of these technologies easier, Schilowitz said he doubted that would ever happen because companies all want to “have ownership with the customer.”