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Metaverse hits TV biz: shows featuring avatars, virtual reality on rise
  • September 19, 2022 | Immersive Content

Metaverse hits TV biz:
shows featuring avatars,
virtual reality on rise

Updated : 2022-09-16 09:31


Music, dating shows incorporate metaverse technology

By Lee Gyu-lee

Metaverse, a term referring to a fictional, immersive world facilitated by virtual and augmented reality (VR, AR) technologies, has been considered to be the next big tech trend over the past couple of years, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic opening up the contactless era.

Many industries, ranging from gaming and social media to banking and retail, have been on their toes to implement the technologies and incorporate metaverse technology into their business. Expanding its presence, metaverse is now hitting the TV business, with networks running series that feature related technologies like virtual avatars and VR or AR.

Local network MBN debuted a big-budget project, "Avatar Singer," which began airing on Aug. 26.

The new program, which prides itself as the first metaverse music show in Korea, invites recognized musicians to perform and compete with each other.

But there is one twist: the musicians perform through a digital avatar on stage.

Hiding their real identity, the competitors perform through their virtual avatars, which imitate their dancing, singing and even facial expressions in detail. The avatars come to the stage to perform in front of an audience and a group of panel cast members, who must try to guess which artist is behind each avatar.

The production team revealed that each episode of the 15-part show cost about 1 billion won ($717,000) to make.

"Actualizing AR and VR (on a show), as the first in the country, is one of the toughest technologies to make use of," Kim Yoon-sung, the executive producer of the show, said during a press conference for the program late last month. "The quality of the technology used in the production is extremely high. We've developed it for a year with about 200 staff. We've had the biggest budget among Korea's reality shows."

Another local network, TV Chosun, is also gearing up to roll out a new music show that features virtual humans.

"Ava Dream," which is slated to premiere on Oct. 3, follows a similar format to the MBN show. It invites 24 singers, who are referred to as Dreamers, to create a virtual version of themselves to perform, while also presenting a collaborative act with his or her avatar.

While comedians Lee Yong-jin and Yoo Se-yoon will be the hosts, actress Yoo In-na, comedians Yang Se-hyung and Lee Jin-ho, and singer Kim Hyeon-Cheol will star as the "dream catchers" to guess the artists.

Metaverse is also finding its way into dating reality shows, which have grown very popular.

JTBC's four-part reality show, "Love In," which ran from Aug. 23 to Sept. 13, adopted a rather unfamiliar concept of dating in a virtual space.

A group of singles, each isolated in separate rooms, go on blind dates with each other for three days through an avatar. Without actually knowing what the other person looks like, the participants must interact only through their virtual selves, while trying to find a true connection.

However, despite the uniqueness of incorporating metaverse in TV shows, the programs have had rather disappointing outcomes, failing to win the hearts of viewers.

"Avatar Singer," despite the excitement the production team expressed at the press conference, kicked off with a 1.4 percent rating, which even fell to 0.8 percent for the second episode.

The JTBC's dating show also failed to create a buzz, seeing a devastatingly low viewership rating of 0.4 percent for most of its episodes.

Pop culture critic Ha Jae-keun said that there still are many limitations in making a show with metaverse-related technology.

"Metaverse itself has several limitations to be incorporated into the entertainment industry. TV shows, to begin with, have to be set on an easy-to-follow concept and star celebrities in person to take part in something that draws the audiences' empathy," he told The Korea Times.

"But when it starts involving digitalized, computer-related concepts, it gets complicated and twists the flow which makes it harder to capture the audiences' interest. And as the quality of the technology is still not up to the top standard, it tends to bring down the quality of the show a little bit."

The critic added that despite the lack of success with the shows, adopting new technology on TV programs could be a meaningful experiment for the networks.

"It seems a bit overwhelming to make such shows. But from the networks' perspective, as they have to keep on trying new things for their shows, this is an experiment to take in this new keyword," Ha noted. "So it was a difficult circumstance to get a good viewership rating and it could just be viewed as a nice effort to make such an attempt."