Virtual Worlds 2007, the first conference devoted to understanding the future of marketing and media, kicked off March 28 – 29 in New York City. The sold-out event brought together about 600 futurists, journalists, metaverse and marketing consultants, platform and content developers, as well as representatives of Fortune 500 companies.
The environment was similar to the first Serious Games Summit, D.C., a mixture of confusion and wonder. Those inexperienced with 3D social environments like Second Life struggled to learn about the potential in virtual worlds while others heralded its future impact, noting that the millennium generation had effortlessly transitioned into digital avatars.
Along with allusions to Neal Stephenson’s book, Snow Crash and The Matrix, debates raged about appropriate metrics for return on investment, whether marketers should target the avatar, the alter ego, or the person behind the avatar, and the educational aspects of virtual worlds.
In addition to many panels, case studies on the Sundance Film Channel, the Centers for Disease Control, and Pontiac showed how different companies used virtual worlds to promote their brand. Jeffrey Yapp, EVP of MTV Networks, along with Matt Bostwick and Steve Youngwood, provided Wednesday’s keynote while Colin Parris, VP of Digital Convergence, delivered the keynote on Thursday.
Keynote – Viacom’s MTV Networks and Nickelodeon
MTV Networks’ Executive Vice President Jeffrey Yapp leads the business development team for MTV Networks Music/Logo Group, extending the MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo brands into new platforms.
During the keynote, Yapp discussed the company's strategy to allow viewers to “live the programming” and become stars in virtual worlds like Virtual Laguna Beach, Virtual Hills, and the upcoming Virtual Pimp My Ride.
Matt Bostwick, Senior Vice President for Franchise Development at MTV Music Group, further elaborated on what MTV called ‘4DTV,’ the combination of a 3D social environment and TV. The virtual worlds are cross-promoted on the TV shows, with VJ’s seamlessly moving from real life to their respective avatars in the digital world.
The mainstream audience, 80% female and corresponding with the TV shows’ demographic, has embraced MTV’s virtual worlds. 64% of users come back multiple times to view new content, chat, buy virtual items, play games, and socialize. Companies like Cingular, Pepsi, and Secret have gotten this audience to interact with their brands.
For example, around 6000 avatars bought over 11,000 cans of virtual Pepsi from Pepsi soda machines in Virtual Laguna Beach. Cingular has a branded telephone in-world and Secret built a special Secret Confessional Room. Bostwick stressed that 4DTV would play a critical role in encouraging mainstream audiences to visit virtual worlds. In the future, all three properties, Virtual Laguna Beach, Virtual Hills, and Virtual Pimp My Ride, will be connected by virtual superhighway.