Facebook is about to disrupt itself out of existence…again

Facebook’s rebranding to Meta can be interpreted in many ways. It can be seen as: following Google / Alphabet’s lead in communicating a new chapter in its business; putting distance between the company and its most well-known app, ahead of it beginning to decline; shifting the story away from whistleblower and ethics narratives; signalling a major strategic reboot. It is, of course, a combination of all of the above. In fact, Facebook is perhaps the most successful example of a global tech company that is embracing Clayton Christensen’s disruption innovation theory. Namely, that in order to compete in a new market, you have to radically change what you do, how you do it, and, crucially, your values. Facebook already went through this entire cycle when it pivoted towards messaging apps, and now it is about to do it all over again.

Strategy repeating itself?

Facebook’s Meta shift has a neat symmetry with its messaging app strategy – coming nearly ten years to the day after the app store launch of Facebook Messenger. When Facebook launched in 2004, the social media world was dominated by highly linear, desktop experiences, like MySpace and GeoCities. Facebook moved the needle, but it was a product of its time and generation. By the turn of the following decade, the world was changing, and with it cane a new generation of mobile-centric consumers – an opportunity that Evan Spiegel and Co seized, with the launch of Snapchat in 2011. As the dominant social platform, Facebook could easily have played it safe, developing a series of ‘good enough’, sustaining innovations to try to keep one step ahead of the noisy, but comparatively tiny, mobile-centric competition. Instead, it did something that big established companies rarely do – it decided to compete head on with it itself. Facebook decided to disrupt itself before the competition did.

Textbook Christensen

Facebook’s messaging app strategy was textbook Christensen. To really drive transformative change, you need to change your entire company and values, which is almost always best achieved by either acquiring companies or launching new divisions, so that you can learn to think and behave differently. After all, as a company, you have to respond to dramatic change in a dramatic fashion, because, up until now, your established way of doing things has resulted in you falling behind. So, in 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion (to initially be run as a separate entity), and then WhatsApp in 2014 for $19.3 billion. Facebook is now the biggest messaging app company on the planet, though the world has changed so much, these apps are often not even called messaging apps anymore. They are simply social apps. That is the scale of the transformation that Facebook achieved, and the metaverse is next.

Ramifications

If Facebook Meta follows a similar path for its metaverse strategy as it did for messaging apps, then a couple of major acquisitions will follow. It would be the wise move to do so, and hopefully Meta’s commitment to spending $10 billion on the metaverse does not reflect the hubris of a company that now thinks it is so good that it can do everything itself. If it is, then the odds are that Meta will not be the key metaverse player. But, if Meta does follow the Christensen playbook and become the central force of the metaverse, then there some major permutations, and even responsibilities, for Meta:

  • If the metaverse becomes the future of social then, unless there is some kind of cultural reset, all of the negative, dark sides of social will simply migrate over and become magnified. Imagine how psychologically damaging getting trolled and abused in virtual reality could be, especially for impressionable, younger people
  • The filter bubbles formed in two-dimensional social media already enable false narratives, like QAnon, to feel entirely real. Imagine just how much more real false narratives could feel in immersive environments

The immersive web

Societal risks and responsibilities aside, the shift to the metaverse represents a broader paradigm shift in digital entertainment and connectivity. MIDiA terms this as the Immersive Web, and, in fact, Facebook’s Meta announcement is a neat validation of the title of our 2021 Predictions report: ‘The Year of the Immersive Web’. Whether lightening can strike twice for Meta remains to be seen, but if it follows its 2011-2014 blueprint, then it has to be in with a shout of being the dominant metaverse player. Metaverses, though, are still heavily rooted in games, and while Meta is making a big bet on their future existing outside of games, there is no doubt that some gaming dynamics and experiences will still be part of what the future of metaverses are. The question is whether that means that the addressable audience is going to be narrower than it was for messaging apps, at least within a meaningful time frame (e.g., 5-10 years)? If not, then the risk is that Meta could end up winning the wrong war and building the future of games, instead of the future of social.

Who will own the virtual concert space?

2020 will go down as a rough year for many artists, largely because of the income they lost when live ground to a halt. Unfortunately, the live music sector is still going to be disrupted in 2021 and it may take even longer for the sector to return to ‘normal’. In fact, we could see the bottom of the live sector thinned out as the smaller venues, agencies and promoters do not have the access to bridging finance that the bigger players have. So, smaller artists may find the face of live permanently changed for them in a way that larger artists do not. Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear: live music is not going to be the same again, and the innovations in virtual and streamed events are not simply a band-aid to get us through tough times. Instead, they are the foundations for permanent additions to the live music mix. The big unanswered question is, who is going own the live-streamed and virtual concert sector?

Bringing it all together

One of the most important things digital tech does is to bring things together. The smartphone is a perfect example. 20 years ago people switched between phones, calendars, diaries, computers, maps, phones, music players, DVD players etc. Now these are all in one device. Streaming did the same to music, taking radio, retail, music collections and music players and putting them together into one unified experience. Until now, live music was not subject to streaming’s great assimilation process. But COVID-19 changed all that. Live used to be separate because it required logistical assets like buildings, ticketing operations, relationships etc. The last few months have shown us that the virtual live sector can operate entirely independent of the traditional sector’s frameworks – which is one of the reasons so much innovation and experimentation has happened. Sure, lots of the early stuff was scrappy and of patchy quality, but is through mistakes that we learn the right way forward. Thus, we have new companies like Driift emerging to bring a more structured and professional approach to a fast-growing but nascent sector.

Disruption is coming

The big traditional live companies right now may be most concerned about whether the still-dormant venues are looking at the new ticketing models being deployed with the likes of Dice and wondering whether they can rethink their entire way of doing business when they reopen. While that may trigger what could prove to be the biggest-ever shift in the live business, the virtual part of the business is where the money is flowing right now: Melody VR bought pioneering but struggling streaming service Napster, Scooter Braun invested in virtual concert company Wave and Tidal bought seven million dollars’ worth of access into virtual concert ‘space’ Sensorium. Virtual reality (VR) spent much of the last couple of years in the trough of disillusionment but now COVID-19’s catalysing impact may see it starting to crawl onwards and upwards. Prior to COVID-19 VR was a technology searching for a purpose. COVID-19 has created one. This is not to say that all of VR’s prior failings no longer matter – they do – but it at least has a set of music use cases to build on. VR can now realistically aspire to be a meaningful component of the wider virtual event sector.

Streaming+

It is no coincidence that streaming is playing a key role. Nor is it just the smaller streaming services at play – Spotify has built the tech infrastructure for live events, while Apple is introducing artificial reality (AR) into Apple TV+, so it is not too big a leap to assume Apple Music AR experiences will follow. Live was the last major component of the music business that streaming could not reach, and that is all about to change. The value proposition for music fans is clear: why go to multiple different places for all your favourite music experiences when they can all be in one place? Think of it as Streaming+. Whatever the future of live is going to be, we can be certain about one thing: it will never be the same again.

Announcing MIDiA’s New Research Practice: Paid Content

We are proud to announce the launch of MIDiA’s latest research practice: Paid Content. We’ve been working on this service for the past 9 months and it is headed up by our Paid Content analyst Zach Fuller.

The Paid Content service is the definitive source of analysis, data and research on the digital content marketplace, the trends that are shaping it, the technologies that are disrupting it and the companies and the consumers that are driving innovation.

It enables clients to get smart fast on the latest new technologies and start ups that are looking to change the marketplace. It shows them best practices in user acquisition, monetization and retention. Clients can benchmark themselves against competitors and against other industries, as well as getting the inside track on where tomorrow’s audiences are heading.

Some of the reports we have already published include:

  • Facebook The Media Company: If It Looks Like A Duck
  • How Consumers Adopt Technology: Why The S-Curve Rules
  • VR Vendor Landscape: Virtual Reality’s Path to Mainstream Entertainment
  • The Death of the Monthly Active User: Redefining User Metrics For The App Era
  • Paid Content Consumer Deep Dive: The Emergence Of A Sophisticated Audience
  • Instagram User Profile: Edging Towards Mainstream
  • SoundCloud User Profile: Male Dominated Music Sophisticates
  • Netflix User Profile: Mass Market Streaming Video Users

The topics we cover in the service include:

  • Full Stack media companies
  • Content strategy for virtual reality
  • Making digital audience measurement work
  • Media Consumption, cannibalization and wallet share
  • Freemium strategy and conversion
  • Blockchain and the payments landscape
  • How consumers adopt technology
  • Emerging market paid content trends and adoption
  • Paid content user profiles by individual app
  • How to utilize messenger app audiences

Who should subscribe?

Streaming media companies, mobile app companies, TV and online video companies, music companies, telcos, consumer electronics companies, investors

If you’d like to learn more about how to get access to Paid Content email us at info@midiaresearch.com

Black Friday Offer: Free MIDiA VR Report

VR report coverShamelessly jumping on the Black Friday bandwagon we have a great offer for you: sign up to the MIDiA weekly research briefing newsletter today and get a free 18 page VR report: ‘The State Of The VR Nation’.

Just go the MIDiA blog homepage and add your email address in the box ‘SUBSCRIBE TO OUR WEEKLY BRIEFING’ and click ‘Subscribe’.

The weekly research digest brings you all of our latest blog analyses on what’s new in music, video, mobile and paid content.

Here’s the introduction to the report:

Virtual Reality’s Path to Mainstream Entertainment

Virtual Reality’s renaissance has an edge on other technologies: romance. Experiences in virtual reality are being evangelised less as entertainment than as a new era of humanity, giving users previously inconceivable levels of exploration in a safe and inconsequential environment. However, this celebratory narrative deserves some context: 2015 saw the entire global VR market generate $189 million, far removed from Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR in 2014. Although tech hype cycles are nothing new, with investment and development still so heavily skewed towards the hardware and limited on the content side, there are several flaws in VR’s route to market, not least an overestimation of consumer readiness. The VR industry has fallen into a predicament over its heavy investment in hardware whilst failing to offer enough experiences to make the technology a meaningful proposition for its early audiences.

Companies Mentioned In The Report: Facebook, Fox Innovation Lab, Google, HTC, MelodyVR, MIT, Oculus VR, PlayStation, Samsung, Sega, Skybound Entertainment, Sony, Valve, Wevr, Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, HTC, MTV, Samsung, Snapchat, Universal, YouTube 8i, AltspaceVR, Amazon, Apple, Baobab Studios, Facebook, Felix & Paul Studios, Google, HTC, Jaunt, Lucid Sight, Next VR, Nokia, Oculus, Ogilvy and Mather, RELOAD STUDIOS, Samsung, Sony, Space VR, Take-Two Interactive, Valve, The Virtual Reality Company, VCR, Visionary VR, Walt Disney, Wevr, Within

And just a reminder: we’re hiring. Come join our fast growing team!