Recent moves by Fortnite maker Epic Games, videogame platform Discord and Amazon Prime Video are dramatic steps toward aggregating media experiences on a grander scale, in the view of one Wall Street analyst.
Kannan Venkateshwar of Barclays, in his weekly “Signal in the Noise” roundup for clients, wrote Thursday that his previous concept of aggregation was limited to “distinct entertainment forms like video.”
In short order, though, some interesting moves happened over the past week. Epic said it would host full screenings of three Christopher Nolan films, all within the environment of Fortnite, a followup to popular concerts by platinum-selling acts like Travis Scott. Discord, a gaming chat app, raised $100 million in new funding and set plans to branch out far beyond gaming. And Amazon Prime Video rolled out “Watch Party,” a social co-viewing feature free for Prime subscribers watching on laptops.
Although aggregation as a concept is not new (consider cable television), Venkateshwar wrote, “in hindsight, we have come to realize that our vision of what aggregation actually means was too limited.” He added, “The actual evolution is proving to be much grander with the creation of aggregators that capture all entertainment, irrespective of form. This process is still very early but is likely to alter entertainment consumption patterns permanently longer term and therefore deserves attention from investors and management teams alike.”
Videogame platforms are in the vanguard of the change, the analyst observed. Fortnite is trafficking in not just movies and music but also podcast and music video recordings, online education, and real-world and virtual broadcasts of events like the Fortnite World Cup, virtual rocket launches and meteor showers.
Gaming platforms also integrate social media and in-game merchandising and have “multiple other layers of aggregation that are still in the early stages of being opened up,” Venkateshwar added. Scott sold a “virtual skin” and his virtual Astro Jack mascot for $15 and $20 apiece, respectively, leading to real-world partnerships with companies like Hasbro. “As these services scale across a more diverse range of content and interactivity, video games like Fortnite can in theory evolve to aggregate social media, entertainment, communication and shopping all into one seamless experience, making them true platforms,” the analyst added.
Amazon, Facebook and Google, similarly, are trying to blur boundaries between platform components. Twitch, owned by Amazon, has expanded into live entertainment, group video viewing and communications.
“These top-down efforts, however, feel a lot less organic and discontinuous than bottoms-up video game platform extensions,” as Venkateshwar sees it. “This is not because of execution capabilities or technological differences but more because of the focus enabled by fewer encumbrances of a large legacy platform that need to be protected.” That positions newer players like Fortnite to disrupt traditional models in a more complete way. “Longer term, this construct has the potential to reshape things beyond entertainment in ways that would make our online experience unrecognizable relative to today.”
A phenomenon like Fortnite, the analyst continued, is only a start. The “true power of this construct” will be unlocked when entities like Fortnite are replicated and a larger “metaverse” full of diversified services blossoms. In such a scheme, each service would connect with each other, as webpages on the internet currently do with each other. The result: “a three-dimensional internet with multiple real life use cases.”
Don’t expect the metaverse to happen overnight, Venkateshwar cautions, calling it a “pipe dream today given our technology limitations as well as lack of agreement on common protocols.” Still, he urged stakeholders to consider a framework in which streaming services like Disney+ and Netflix as well as movies and TV shows could be distributed via Fortnite instead of Apple’s App Store or Comcast’s Xfinity X1 system. “While the underlying content would be the same, the experience of watching the same piece of content would be completely different on different platforms. Also, the change in viewing context is also likely to require a change in the nature of content.”
Netflix has been exploring new horizons from the content side with interactive titles like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ) with gaming-inspired features.
“As video games increasingly become the source for traditional content (The Witcher, Sonic the Hedgehog, Diablo) and viewing context morphs, long-term frameworks for what entertainment really means for emergent demographic cohorts, will need to be reframed,” Venkateshwar wrote.
While no legacy media company or tech incumbent is at immediate risk, the report concludes, “it will need completely new skills and capabilities that legacy tech behemoths and legacy media companies may not be equipped to fully deliver long-term.”