A Week of Experiments With Long Term Implications

By Nick Strann | 2 min read

By Nick Strann | @n_strann | 2 min read

Last week, we examined Sony’s recent investment into Epic Games – exploring the numerous ways that Epic’s Unreal Game Engine is quietly becoming a crucial element within media and entertainment. A highlight from that piece:

Industry adoption [of Unreal] was already accelerating pre-pandemic and the obvious implications of this technology in a post-COVID world are only becoming more important as Hollywood creatives continue to innovate and demonstrate the power of the engine.

In other words, we believe that COVID’s prevention of in-person production will act as a catalyst for industry wide adoption of Unreal. That prediction appears to be coming true faster than expected and, in the past week alone, we’ve seen two noteworthy examples of how entertainment companies are turning to game engine technology to solve a variety of pandemic induced issues.

  • Fox Fills Stands with Virtual Fans – Rather than simply accepting empty stadiums as another sign of the times, Fox Sports partnered with Silver Spoon Animation and augmented reality production system Pixotope (whose platform is built on the Unreal Engine) to fill stands in LA and Chicago with digitally generated fans. The effect is uncanny but if you are passing by a TV or watching from a distance, it’s honestly a bit hard to catch at first glance. Nonetheless, empty stadiums won’t be empty forever and this particular application of game engine tech will be short lived. Experimenting with less blatant AR in live broadcasts, however, will become more and more commonplace. The same tech that can be used to drop digital fans into a stadium can be used to insert targeted ads over in-stadium displays. Couple that capability with a connected TV, programmatic marketplace like Roku and every stadium, arena, and beach volleyball court suddenly provides a multitude of non-obtrusive targeted ad inventory. Expect other networks to follow Fox’s lead here, experimenting now while audiences are expecting some weirdness in their live sport experience.
  • Noah Cyrus Shoots New Music Video Completely In-Game – Sony Music artist Noah Cyrus was supposed to shoot a video for her platinum single “July” earlier this year. COVID put a stop to that plan. Instead, the video released on Tuesday was “shot” completely within Dreams, a sort of playable game engine published by Sony prior to its investment in Epic. So far the video has been viewed 89K+ times – a response that is perfectly…fine. Nonetheless, Sony Music has been doubling down on game-music crossovers, hiring multiple high-level game designers in the wake of Travis Scott’s “Astronomical” event in Fortnite. The top job req for the news roles? Experience with the Unreal Game Engine. So while other labels are only beginning to dip their toes in, Sony Music is quickly establishing itself as the front runner with the talent, technology, and team to do something about it.

Make no mistake, the takeaway here isn’t that COVID is changing the way we produce content. If you haven’t seen that disruption firsthand then you’ve heard about it from every major news outlet, trade pub, and industry observer there is. No, the takeaway is that Unreal is rapidly demonstrating its utility (and growing necessity) in all forms of entertainment and media – setting up the possibility of an ecosystem unified on a SINGLE platform. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney calls it the Metaverse. We call it a brilliant moonshot and will continue to explore the potential ramifications in the weeks to come.