Dave Meeker is an old friend of mine. The polite thing is to say our conversation was “wide-ranging,” but it was more like disjointed pinball. We talked about far-flung ideas that seem far-fetched and yet are already starting to happen.
When he thinks What the Future of entertainment experiences, he is at once a skeptic: “Who would want that?!?” But he’s also techno-woke: “I don’t, but I bet someone will.” This makes him the perfect global chief innovation officer, a position he holds for agency group Dentsu Creative, as well as its head of design and innovation for the Americas. Hang on, this will be a fun ride and make sure to stay ‘til the end.
Matt Carmichael: We’re really starting to see the lines between real and virtual blur.
Dave Meeker: There’s all this digital extension stuff, trying to take physical products and shopping into digital experiences that would have felt super off-brand two or three years ago. Now all this weirdness is happening. Virtual humans? The Travis Scott concert in Fortnite and tens of millions of people watched? COVID-19 has accelerated all of these ideas that people had as maybes into things that are either not working or working, but at least they’re trying.
Carmichael: And it’s commerce too, right?
Meeker: It’s not just that the shopping environment becomes virtual, it’s that the products or the product shopping experience also become virtual. I might buy the physical product, but my experience of product education happens in a game. Or I get turned on to a new fashion line through an interactive experience.
Carmichael: What are the limits?
Meeker: Some think that all of a sudden we’re going to go into this totally virtual world, but the expectation is that it will feel “real” and we’re not yet given “real.” The technology isn’t quite there. But then you take the Travis Scott concert that my kid participated in with 12.5 million other kids. They know it’s not real. They don’t expect real. They expect Travis Scott to look like a video game character. The music’s real, they still hear their favorite songs performed live. This is kind of where we’re at in terms of the content for virtual events. It’s not one-kind-of-content-fits all kinds of experiences. There are degrees.
Carmichael: Spin that out a little further.
Meeker: Say I’m watching a concert on screen. I’ve got my phone on my little selfie stick tripod thing that a lot of these kids have. I stand up and I dance along and the phone’s capturing me and putting me into the concert. So now when I look at the concert, there’s the person on stage, but there’s all of these people really dancing to that. And it’s all synched. Say I want to get closer to the stage? It’s another $3. That becomes a monetization model around how much of the experience the viewer controls. How much do you get to take to your social media channels? Can you get onstage with the performer? Did you pay $1,000 to be on stage for two minutes? I wouldn’t, but I’ll bet you there are people who would. Then you can post that on Instagram or TikTok and now you’re famous because you were on stage in the virtual event.
Carmichael: And, of course, there would be merch.
Meeker: Once you get to the virtual event, you can pick one of three T-shirts or you get other physical things sent to you. These digital/physical tie-ins are really interesting. And maybe you can mix and match your own camera angles. So I want to look at things from the drummer’s perspective or have a first-person view of the singer looking out at the audience. I buy that as part of my ticket package. Or bands could offer sponsored experiences where a regular person gets to watch the thing you get to participate in. That’s where the future lies. 2018, 2019 created the opportunity. 2020 created a necessity.
Carmichael: The Rolling Stones could really keep rolling like this.
Meeker: If you could capture the Rolling Stones in volumetric video on a big stage with a live concert—and the technology is getting that good—do they ever need to play another concert ever again? You could get to the point where the band gets together in a studio and does “backstage live” interactions with people, but you’re not really looking at them, you’re looking at the meta-human version of them. I don’t want that experience, but I’m not 13. Right?
Carmichael: How does all this technology work for other products?
Meeker: I need to fix my washing machine. I don’t know how to fix my washing machine. Well, don’t perform surgery on your washing machine. Perform surgery on the virtual version of your washing machine, right? That’s a weird example, but think of something like [the kids’ show] “Paw Patrol.” Say you want to be part of it. All right, come over here, pop your head in. And now your world is a “Paw Patrol” world because of virtual reality, 3D content, cameras on the devices, all powered by an AI [artificial intelligence] cloud. That stuff has not yet been figured out, but in 15 years, all of these things will be probably very commonplace.
Carmichael: So what do the next five years look like?
Meeker: It’s all on the table. We’re going to see fully virtual concerts that sell tickets for $500 where you have a one-on-one with Lady Gaga before the show. And none of it ever really happened, but it did, and you know that it was totally fake. That was not really Lady Gaga, it was a PR person pretending to be her with a virtual human. But then there’s the kicker. Look at Texas recently. What happens when all the power goes out? What’s the backup plan? We don’t have one.