Content stays in focus at CES 2023 as it adapts to changing technology

The annual Consumer Electronics Show is always a place for the world’s tech companies to pitch their vision for the future. However, marketers say the old adage of content as king is now playing out for the metaverse even while the adoption of virtual and augmented reality hardware still lags.

During the conference and trade show, some attendees noted that the innovations not on the showroom floor were in some cases more interesting than the physical products. For example, Noah Mallin, chief strategy officer at IMGN Media, pointed to the rapid popularity of ChatGPT and Midjourney — hot topics throughout the Las Vegas bonanza — and both the excitement and challenges that come with adding artificial intelligence to creative tools.

“There’s a sludge effect of a lot of reasonably well-written content and decently rendered imagery that will flood the online world, sometimes maliciously,” said Noah Mallin, chief strategy officer at IMGN Media. “AI without people creatively working with it. And that could lead to companies undervaluing the thinking that powers great creative execution. And foment more mediocrity.”

Over the past few months, tech giants have been quickly rolling out new AI-powered tools for generating text, videos and images. Last year, generative AI made it onto the research firm Gartner’s annual marketing hype cycle report, which predicted it could reach mainstream adoption in a few years. However, the open-source nature of it, varied capabilities and low barrier to entry have allowed it to already go beyond early adopter curiosity, said Gartner analyst Andrew Frank.

“ChatGPT has broken the image of what AI was capable of doing,” Frank said. “Maybe 2023 is the year when AI really breaks out of the mode where it’s easy to recognize and starts to become a little bit spookier when it interacts with us.”

Beyond hardware specs, content was part of many tech companies’ pitches for the future of VR and AR. To show off its mixed reality headset and related software, Canon partnered with director M. Night Shyamalan, who is using the tech to bring viewers inside his films. Ahead of releasing its second-generation Playstation VR headset next month, Sony partnered with British soccer franchise Manchester City to create a new way for fans to interact in the metaverse as avatars. Meanwhile, Holoride showed off its in-car VR experience by letting people sit in the back of a 1967 Cadillac DeVille through its partnership with HTC.

Some attendees noticed less long-term hype around ambitious-but-not-yet-real tech and instead more focus on innovations related to shorter-term solutions. Brian Yamada, chief innovation officer at VMLY&R, said announcements around content creation tools felt more applicable this year along with innovations for tech such as augmented reality shopping. However, he said the actual use cases for AR still need to be clarified.

Despite the usual buzzy announcements, CES overall was less popular on social media than at any time in the past five years, according to data from BrandWatch. The analytics company found that CES was only mentioned on social media 290,000 times — just a fourth of the 1.2 million mentions in 2018 and even less than the 350,000 mentions in 2021 and 472,000 in 2022.

Another big topic not physically on the showroom floor but still omnipresent was the effect the global economy will have on marketers’ willingness to try new tech and approve experimental budgets. That doesn’t mean adoption will slow, said Yamada.

“There might be a little hesitation and there’s not the FOMO of metaverse that there was nine months ago,” he added. “But all the tech is getting better, faster, cheaper.”

Some marketers even see the uncertain economy as a potential selling point for their offerings. Despite expecting a slowdown last fall, Infinite Reality — a company that works with brands and media companies to develop metaverse experiences — now sees its focus on premium content as part of the appeal amid the fragmented audience landscape. Rather than proverbially boiling the ocean by trying to make everything mainstream, Infinite Reality co-founder and chief innovation officer Elliott Jobe said it’s important to match the right uses to the right audiences.

“You have to not make it difficult for whomever your client is to make a transition with their tried-and-true ritual devices,” said Infinite Reality CMO Hope Frank. “…We think browser-based is really important to create that immersive experience and at the same time, they want a fully immersive VR experience. So we have to run in parallel and deliver both.”

Despite the investments in premium content, some think mainstream adoption of the metaverse will require more creators to make content for it. Meredith Rojas, chief brand officer of the influencer platform Captiv8, said people stay engaged longer on platforms like Roblox than they do on short-form video platforms like TikTok.

“Nobody wants to watch something for 30 minutes on TikTok,” Rojas said. “You can’t just package something and drop it somewhere.”

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