From Spectators to Directors: The Audience Era in Media Production
The future of intellectual property (IP) in the media industry is undergoing a significant shift, something that’s been cooking for several years and is rapidly coming to fruition. No longer can media creators and stakeholders afford to think of their assets as solely tied to single projects within traditional formats like film and TV. As we navigate a divisive moment in media consumption—where social media, immersive platforms, and changing consumer habits intersect—failing to adapt and evolve likely means getting left behind.
According to Bain’s research, immersive platforms (such as gaming, metaverses, and augmented reality/virtual reality hubs) alone could increase U.S. media markets by around 15-20% by 2030. But what does this mean for IP holders in film, gaming, and other media sectors? And how can they adapt to this rapidly changing landscape without falling victim to its complexities? How can each larger industry sector utilize IP and assets beyond one-time-use projects? Is it too soon or too late to adapt to such drastic shifts?
We will dissect these questions by examining the challenges presented and opportunities to be gained from the perspectives of media studios, game developers, marketing agencies, and consumers. We’ll look at how IPs can be revitalized, not just left to sit post-production, and leveraged across various platforms and experiences, looking into the successes and stumbling blocks encountered by trailblazers in the industry.
The Evolution of Media Consumption and IP Monetization
We’re at a watershed moment in the history of media consumption, actively watching the arrival of significant new trends, blending technological advancements, and shifting consumer behaviors. Gone are the days when a film or TV series could only dream of a life beyond the silver screen or your living room’s LCD display. As traditional revenue streams like box office sales seemingly plateau and conversations around streaming services and their vague, hard-to-interpret numbers rise, IP holders are confronted with a stark reality: adapt or become obsolete.
Let’s start by identifying what is changing and who’s driving the new trends. Primarily, there’s a generational divide in consumer behavior. Younger audiences, well-versed in “lean-in” activities, are steering away from “lean-back” traditional media experiences. These consumers spend about half their media time in interactive environments, ranging from gaming platforms to social media, craving a more immersive and participatory form of entertainment. Whether it’s the ability to instantly create, like, and share linear content with peers or controlling characters in non-linear environments, experiences prioritizing user interactivity are starting to take up significantly more consumption time, and it’s not slowing down.
Technological leaps are not just about better graphics or faster streaming; they’re about enabling new kinds of experiences altogether. For instance, the advent of 5G networks makes high-quality 3D games accessible without the need for bulky consoles or PCs. More people than ever have access to high-quality experiences over streaming technology, and companies like Microsoft are pursuing this heavily. Users are also becoming accustomed to having autonomy over their content, having a direct say in how content is designed or created, and the ability to create and distribute it themselves if they so choose. Such advancements facilitate the creation of immersive environments, where the lines between different forms of media blur, and various IPs can co-exist and interact.
It’s not just about consumer demand or technological feasibility. The financial stakes are enormous. With traditional media profits stagnating, game and social media platforms have seen their earnings soar three to four times higher over the past five years. The gaming sector alone saw more than $200 billion in M&A deal value from 2019 to 2022, indicating where investors place their bets for the future. So, how can different industries adapt?
The Studio Perspective: Ecosystem Architects in the Immersive Era
Studios are no longer just creators; they’re evolving into ecosystem architects. The financial imperative to innovate has never been more evident as traditional revenue streams decline. Static IP locked away in digital archives must transform into dynamic ecosystems capable of crossing platforms, mediums, and industries.
One immediate opportunity lies in asset reusability. Studios invest millions into developing assets for films and TV shows. Instead of letting these assets collect digital dust after production, they can be repurposed for games, virtual experiences, or even as digital assets for sale or licensing in emerging marketplaces. The trick is to think beyond one-time use and envision how an asset can live across different platforms. The current licensing models we operate off of have become dated, not considering the state of the industry today and the ability to share and utilize IP on platforms that didn’t even exist several years ago. Gamified experiences, immersive platforms, and massive digital marketplaces are all being held to an older standard, and it’s time to look at new practices.
However, scalability remains a significant hurdle due to the fragmented nature of the current media landscape. A unified, plug-and-play ecosystem is lacking, making integration a monumental task. Studios need to invest in updating their technological infrastructure to allow for asset interoperability across departments and platforms. The tricky aspect comes into play once you look at all the moving parts; if studios can create workflows that integrate with robust asset management systems, conform assets, and find a way to enforce the new standards on vendor studios, we could see an elegant, unified solution. Undeniably, another tricky aspect will be navigating the legalese, with some expected road bumps when identifying asset ownership and reusability rules. If studios can lay this groundwork, the rewards would be immense, letting users engage with properties they love while bringing massive revenue to all studios involved. A rising tide lifts all boats.
This shift opens the door for lucrative cross-industry partnerships. Collaborations like Marvel/Fortnite are not just additional revenue streams but powerful marketing tools. These partnerships deepen fan engagement, extend brand reach, and introduce the IP to new audiences. By leveraging the emotional connection the audience has with their character, a subconscious ownership is built between them and the character. Suddenly, Marvel starts to feel like something more than a movie, something that an audience is participating in.
The Game Studio Angle: Leading the Charge in the Immersive Era
Game studios have a unique advantage—they’ve presumably mastered the art of creating interactive, lean-in experiences. As consumers under 35 spend about half their media time in non-linear environments, the opportunity for game studios is immense. Games are also rapidly evolving into media hubs. Players don’t just engage in gameplay; they socialize, shop, and consume other media types. This multifunctionality turns games into versatile platforms for IP deployment, ripe for in-game concerts and virtual merchandise.
Game studios already possess the capabilities for real-time operations and non-linear storytelling. These are critical assets in the Immersive Era, allowing studios to adapt quickly to consumer preferences, market trends, and real-world events. Many studios have experience that affords them the agility to modify content rapidly, which can set successful IPs apart in this fast-evolving landscape. As Live-Service experiences become more common - games that expand and evolve over years as content is added and taken away - audiences spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in these ecosystems. Finding a unified solution for game studios to leverage their experience by partnering, collaborating, and learning with the Film and Television industries could yield astounding results regarding brand awareness.
The Marketing Agency’s Role: Engaging With A New Type of Audience
Marketing agencies find themselves in a unique position, where it’s becoming more and more fruitful to look at the transition from acting as static advertising architects to full-experience curators. The conventional tools of the trade, such as traditional advertising and social media engagement, are giving way to more experiential, personalized touchpoints.
Agencies can and should capitalize on the shift from “lean back” to “lean in” content. With AI and AR/VR technology advancements, the potential for creative, immersive ad campaigns is limitless. Think beyond the 30-second ad spot to how a brand could immerse itself into the virtual worlds where consumers increasingly spend their time. Why create an asset for a single commercial and let it sit when audience members are willing to interact with the IP and champion the brand through cross-media experiences? Not to mention the potential for providing digital assets for attendance to real-world experiences or physical purchases. What if you could show off the fact that you went to the Taylor Swift concert by putting the shirt you bought on your digital avatar?
Metrics are evolving, too. Agencies should prioritize analytics that capture immersive engagement, going beyond clicks and impressions to measure interaction time, engagement depth, and even emotional responses throughout the experience. This more nuanced understanding of consumer engagement will guide more effective strategies moving forward. The agency’s expertise in data analytics and consumer behavior will be vital in navigating a landscape fragmented by different platforms, media types, and consumer preferences. They will be essential in unifying the consumer experience across this new, sprawling landscape.
The Future is Now: The Tipping Point of Immersive Media
We are at an inflection point where all the necessary elements—consumer demand, technological advancements, and market shifts—converge to solidify the Immersive Era. Early adopters in this space are already reaping the rewards, whether Travis Scott’s groundbreaking Fortnite concert or Uber working with Spotify to give riders even more ownership of their trip.
It’s crucial to note that the Immersive Era isn’t a far-off future; it’s happening now. Businesses that wait for a more “settled” landscape risk falling irreversibly behind. The speed at which these platforms evolve and capture market share is a clear indicator. The time to strategize and act is now. While some may view the Immersive Era as disruptive, it’s better seen as an evolution that enhances rather than replaces existing formats.
Streaming services, for example, won’t disappear but will likely integrate more immersive elements. Likewise, traditional media forms will adapt, incorporating interactive and non-linear storytelling techniques to meet evolving consumer demand. Movie studios and theaters, who have faced a years-long narrative about the lack of crowds willing actually to sit in seats, found one of its best summers ever through non-traditional engagement.
While some aspects can be attributed to “the perfect storm,” who among us wasn’t at least aware of BarbenHeimer, if not being actively encouraged to participate in a double feature, something most audience members wouldn’t have even considered with other films. What will they do with these IPs to capitalize on this success instead of letting it stagnate after the box office hype has died down?
As we move deeper into the Immersive Era, the criteria for success are being rewritten. It’s no longer just about the number of eyeballs on a screen or the click-through rates of an ad campaign. The future belongs to those who can craft compelling, immersive experiences that captivate audiences and seamlessly integrate various media forms.
To thrive in this new landscape, media companies, marketers, and consumers must embrace change, continually adapt, and, most importantly, be willing to take risks. Whether it’s investing in new technologies, pioneering innovative storytelling formats, or forging unexpected partnerships, those who dare to venture into the unknown will be the architects of the next chapter in media history.