iHeartMedia hopes to leverage their existing significant audience to expand its virtual presence in the metaverse. The media giant promises literally “a whole new world of enhanced engagement” through interactive performances and immersive gameplay.
Metaverse has been defined as an online digital world where people can interact with different brands and experiences. What exactly this world will one day grow into is still being resolved. But today, an industry observer said the metaverse could be described as “a hypothetical virtual world enhanced by virtual reality and augmented reality.”
“Think of the Metaverse as a collection of 3D worlds put together to connect with a wider audience.”
There are skeptics who worry that the term is recklessly scattering and is far from keeping its word. (You might just see headlines like Google “Facebook metaverse” and “Facebook’s metaverse is an empty, sad, unpopular fiasco”.)
Created by iHeart, iHeartLand is part game and part entertainment. It’s part of Fortnite and Roblox, but the company envisions it as something more and is positioning itself to be ready to meet audiences no matter what future metaverse iterations may be.
“Our goal is to meet audiences where they are while delivering innovative, incredible programming to constantly push ourselves to take entertainment to the next level,” said Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group.
iHeartLand features a calendar of music and podcast performances at State Farm Park—yes, they’ve sold the naming rights—that gives fans a chance to play and interact with shows and artists in new ways. For example, Roblox users can be a music “businessman”.
iHeartMedia promotes iHeartLand as a goal dedicated to bringing fans closer to the big stars through gaming. “iHeartMedia expands our interaction with our users,” Byrne said.
The company plans to host 20 major events in Fortnite over 12 months. He launched the virtual program hosting a Charlie Puth concert in September. Other artists scheduled to perform include Ariana Grande and Travis Scott.
Observers say the expansion and activations of the iHeartMedia brand come at a time when entertainment and media companies are accelerating their plans to create a space in the online digital world.
“The metaverse is a very natural fit for iHeart to integrate live radio content and talent,” said Buzz Knight, a veteran programmer and former VP of programming at Beasley Media.
“The potential of iHeartLand is huge if they can stick with the massive investment of time and money and find a seamless way to integrate with their existing ecosystem.”
In an interview with the NAB Amplify website this fall, producer and media watchdog Evan Shapiro identified the four main segments of the media economy—audio, video, gaming and social—all of which are included in iHeart’s plan. Shapiro calls it the “media universe”.
As for the Metaverse, it has become an all-encompassing broad term, says Byrne, but according to iHeart’s definition, it can mean at least three: “Web2, which is today’s internet and includes Fortnite, Roblox, and gaming platforms. Then Web3, which is immersive and built on blockchain technologies and includes the likes of Sandbox. There is great interest in NFTs. Web3 has a very small audience so far but a lot of potential.
“The third version is augmented reality and, by many definitions, the true metaverse. And superimposed on the real world. This is the future.
Byrne says iHeartMedia’s expansion into this first layer of the online virtual digital world is a logical step, given the amount of content it produces and the number of personalities it employs.
“The move into the online virtual programming space is a natural progression. That’s why we want to start there, and it’s just the beginning, because iHeart brings so many things together. We’re a superpower of broadcast talent and influencers and entertainment community. From the best storytellers and chatbots in all media. We have some of those.
“Our second feature is that we are a mass reach media company. We have almost a thousand radio stations and the iHeart Podcast Network with lots of podcasts downloaded every month. “As we see places that are growing and expanding rapidly, and Fortnite and Roblox are two of those platforms becoming mass-access platforms, we decided we wanted to be there with our brand.”
[Related: “Meet Me in the Metaverse“]
Byrne says iHeart has reached Fortnite and Roblox in the fall of 2021 and has begun brainstorming about what iHeart will look like on those platforms. Thus the beginning of iHeartLand appeared.
Byrne said iHeartLand looks different on the two platforms, and each has “its own unique style look and feel.”
According to Byrne, iHeartLand is more than just a token-based economy on Roblox, but there are iHeartBucks in the gaming neighborhood.
For example youPon, who came to iHeartLand on Roblox, “will be given a simple music studio for each user to customize. From there, users will harness the power of sound to embark on a musical empire and have to search the streets of iHeartLand to gather sound energy to invest back in their studios.”
An iHeart media release continues: “Sound energy powers the studio while generating listeners and iHeartBucks that are used in the experience to elevate their studio with great equipment, playlist programming, studio pets, and more.”
According to promotional material, iHeartLand minigames in Fortnite include Cranking 90s, Sound of Speed, Leap of Faith, and others.
“Players can enter the iHeart building and view a small-scale overhead map of the island and find their way along iHeartLand, a broadcast recording studio, and iHeart’s famous radio Tuning Tunnel, located in true New York City.”
iHeart CEO Bob Pittman recently told Inside Radio:Tokens finally give us a way to build a really solid loyalty program.”
The publisher worked with Atlas Entertainment on the development of the Fortnite island and the game development studio known as The Gang Stockholm for the Roblox iHeartLand design.
iHeart hasn’t released publicly available data on the number of visitors to its online digital world at the time of this writing, but after launching on Roblox on September 14, iHeartLand gained 1.5 million visits in just a few weeks, according to Digiday. An online magazine that reports on digital media.
According to iHeart, the Fortnite and Roblox demographics are very young, but this audience is getting older.
“For example, when we started building iHeartLand on Roblox, two-thirds of their audience were 16 years old or younger. It’s incredible – 200 million Roblox users per month, two-thirds are 16 years old or younger. Now, that’s over 50% of users 16 years old. “So it’s getting old fast. We have to schedule concerts and plays that are age-appropriate. It’s not just Gen Z, it’s Gen Alpha. That makes it a fun challenge.”
Byrne says iHeart hopes to shape the next generation of the metaverse by delivering more immersive experiences.
“I think this is launching a real new platform for us to finally successfully monetize. We want to do more gigs. We’re also very interested in the metaverse as it applies to the real world or augmented realities and of course Web3. Real in how they work with tokens and currencies. There is a power.”
At iHeart, Byrne says a cross-departmental team oversaw the metaverse project, from product and business development to in-house engineering and design teams.
Byrne said iHeartLand sponsors, including State Farm and Intel, are interested in iHeart’s ability to launch the latest innovations with mass media. “This gives advertisers the ability to open up new space ahead of the competition.”
Radio World has invited Cumulus, Beasley Media Group and Audacy to share their plans for Metaverse.
Cumulus declined to comment on any metaverse plans.
“Like all new technology and distribution opportunities in the past, Web3 and the metaverse will both open up new opportunities for us to engage with our fans and have the potential to unlock new lines of business,” JD Crowley, Digital Director of Audacy, told Radio World.
“Right now we are all in a testing and learning phase and have a number of pilot activations under development, from our events to brand partnerships to content distribution. As with any new space, we will see what resonates with consumers and we will tune in accordingly. The question is not when, but when and how it is.”
A Beasley spokesperson said the publisher is “currently exploring potential opportunities in the metaverse” but declined to discuss specific plans.
“We see the value and potential opportunity for audiences in the radio/audio industry,” he said.
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