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Tencent makes moves to build metaverse

Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings is reportedly planning to acquire gaming smartphone manufacturer Black Shark in a move that could help the company build its own metaverse.

If the acquisition goes ahead, Black Shark will shift its business focus from gaming mobile phones to virtual reality hardware, according to a report from news outlet 36kr.

Black Shark, which has a presence in China, Europe and south Asia, is currently majority-owned by technology giant Xiaomi.

As noted by Bloomberg in November, making a play for the metaverse is a logical step for Tencent.

The company already owns a stake in video game company Epic Games – the maker of Fortnite which has hosted virtual concerts from the likes of  Travis ScottAriana GrandeMarshmello, Steve Aoki, Deadmau5, Easy Life and J. Balvin.

Tencent Holdings invested $330 million in Epic Games in 2012 (around five years before Fortnite was released) in return for a 40% stake.

“We felt that we have a lot of tech and capability building blocks that will allow us to approach the Metaverse opportunities”

The company also entered into a strategic partnership with Roblox, in May 2019, in which Tencent holds a 49% stake. Last year, Tencent filed for two Metaverse-related trademarks.

Tencent president Martin Lau spoke about the company’s positioning to build a metaverse during the company’s Q3 earnings call in November: “In terms of our capabilities and our positioning, we felt we actually have a lot of the technology and know-how building blocks for us to explore and develop for the Metaverse opportunity”.

He continued: “For example, we have a lot of gaming experiences. We also have very strong social networking experience. In addition to that, in terms of technology building blocks, we have engine capability, we have AI capability, we have the capability to build large server architecture that can serve a huge number of concurrent users.”

Tencent has stiff competition from other tech giants in a race to build the metaverse – namely from Meta (formerly known as Facebook).

The company announced plans in October 2021 to hire 10,000 people to accelerate its development of a metaverse but it has promised to collaborate, adding, “it won’t be built overnight by a single company”.

 


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Facebook surges ahead in race to create metaverse

Facebook plans to hire 10,000 people to accelerate its development of a so-called metaverse  – a virtual world in which people can work, game, play and even watch concerts.

The word ‘metaverse’ – made up of the prefix ‘meta’ (meaning beyond) and the stem ‘verse’ (a back-formation from “universe”) – is typically used to describe the future iteration of the internet, made up of permanent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

Using technologies like virtual and augmented reality, Facebook says it hopes to create a greater sense of “virtual presence” in the metaverse that will “mimic the experience of interacting in person”.

Facebook has made building the metaverse one of its priorities, investing in virtual reality through its Oculus headsets and building VR apps for social hangouts and for the workplace.

In 2018, the tech giant expanded into VR live events, including concerts, with the launch of its social events app Oculus Venues.

Facebook invested $50 million in funding non-profit groups to help “build the metaverse responsibly”

The app enabled users of its Oculus Go and Gear VR headsets to watch live music and sports alongside other virtual-reality avatars.

In 2020, Occulus partnered with artist-owned streaming platform Tidal to bring a series of exclusive and intimate live performances that can be streamed in virtual reality to fans’ homes.

More recently it invested $50 million in funding non-profit groups to help “build the metaverse responsibly”.

However, Facebook claims the metaverse “won’t be built overnight by a single company” and has promised to collaborate.

A number of massive tech-centric companies that have vested interests in music, such as Tencent and Alibaba, are also investigating how to build a metaverse.

Roblox’s global head of music told IQ in January that he thinks the metaverse will be bigger than the internet and mobile

Over the course of several years, Epic Games has been expanding its hugely popular online multiplayer game Fortnite to host virtual concerts and brand events within its own virtual world.

Ariana Grande, MarshmelloTravis Scott, Steve Aoki, Deadmau5, Easy Life and J. Balvin are among the artists that have delivered virtual concerts within the game.

Other games are getting closer to a metaverse idea, too. Roblox, for example, is an online community where people come together to play, create and explore millions of 3D virtual worlds together with their friends.

The online gaming platform has also incorporated virtual concerts into its offering with performances from the likes of  Royal Blood and Lil Nas X and Twenty One Pilots.

Roblox’s global head of music, Jon Vlassopulos, told IQ in January that he thinks the metaverse will be bigger than the internet and mobile.

Startup companies including Stage11, AmazeVR, Stageverse and Sensorium have also announced ambitions to develop a metaverse.

 


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Facebook to waive commission on live streams until 2023

Facebook will not charge a fee to content creators for at least the next two years, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced.

“To help more creators make a living on our platforms, we’re going to keep paid online events, fan subscriptions, badges, and our upcoming independent news products free for creators until 2023,” Zuckerberg (pictured) writes. “And when we do introduce a revenue share, it will be less than the 30% that Apple and others take.”

The company recently rolled out its paid online events functionality to a further 24 countries, bringing the total territories where creators such as musicians can sell tickets for virtual events to 44.

Introduced in April 2020 in response to the boom in livestreamed events, the feature effectively allows Facebook pages to sell digital tickets for virtual shows, whether livestreamed via Facebook’s own Facebook Live or a third-party site.

Facebook had previously said it would take no commission on paid online events until August 2021.

 


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Facebook rolls out ticketed live streams to new markets

Facebook is rolling out its paid online events functionality, which enables creators to charge for entry to live streams, to a further 24 markets across the world, it has announced.

Introduced in April 2020 in response to the boom in livestreamed events, the feature effectively allows Facebook pages to sell digital tickets for virtual shows, whether livestreamed via Facebook’s own Facebook Live or a third-party site. Paid online events were previously available in 20 countries.

The update, which will go live in the coming weeks, extends the functionality to an additional 24 markets in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia and South America.

“Many conference organisers, musicians, trainers, theatre producers, creators and businesses are losing revenue during the pandemic due to social distancing measures,” comments Facebook’s Jocelyne Muhutu-Remy.

“Paid online events will help reconnect with fans, monetise and reach larger audiences all around the world”

“Paid online events will help them to reconnect with their fans, monetise and reach larger audiences all around the world.”

Facebook has said it will take no commission on ticket sales until at least August 2021.

The new markets where paid online events will be available are Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, New Zealand, Peru, Portugal, the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, the Philippines, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The expansion of the paid online events feature follows the introduction of in-stream ads as a further revenue source for Facebook content creators.

 


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Tidal partners with Facebook’s VR platform Oculus

Artist-owned streaming platform Tidal has joined forces with Facebook’s virtual reality platform Oculus to bring a series of exclusive and intimate live performances that can be streamed in virtual reality to fans’ homes.

The series will be available later this year to stream in virtual reality on the Venues app (available on the Oculus Quest) and in 2D video and high-quality audio on Tidal.

“At a time when livestreamed performances are seen as the new norm, Tidal’s partnership with Oculus provides music lovers an elevated concert experience with more interaction and dimension than past livestreams,” says Tidal COO, Lior Tibon.

“Oculus is revolutionizing the live music experience and matched with Tidal’s HiFi audio quality, members will be able to remember what it feels like to stand in a large crowd at a concert venue.”

“Members will be able to remember what it feels like to stand in a large crowd at a concert venue”

Tidal, whose artist co-owners include Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Daft Punk and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, promises the series will feature “some of the biggest names in music”.

Facebook launched the Venues app, described as “the companion app to live events,” in June this year.

Elsewhere in the VR world, Tidal recently spent US$7 million on tokens issued by the company behind Sensorium Galaxy, a new VR “social metaspace” in which users can attend alternative-world concerts, nightclubs and festivals through a VR headset.

Through the purchase, Tidal has acquired access to broadcast their content within Sensorium Galaxy, which is due to launch publicly in early 2021.

 


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Facebook cracks down on unlicensed livestreaming

Facebook is cracking down on livestreamed shows that include recorded music with new terms of service, preventing artists from using the platform for “commercial or non-personal” purposes, unless they have obtained the relevant licences.

The updated music guidelines state that users “may not use videos on our products [which include Instagram] to create a music listening experience […] This includes [Facebook] Live,” and stipulates that such content should be posted for the enjoyment of friends and family only.

The terms also say that any videos not adhering to the guidelines will be blocked and the offending page, profile or group may be deleted. The updated guidelines will come into effect from 1 October.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the music industry has seen a boom in livestreamed concerts which, in turn, has raised questions about copyright infringement issues around the use of recorded music.

Recently, Gregor Pryor of law firm Reed Smith told IQ how artists can effectively – and legally – engage and monetise the online format.

“Considering the rules and regulations involved will be essential to prevent any platform-imposed penalties”

Pryor recommends that artists check each platform’s terms and conditions and monetisation policies, and remember that they are responsible for all rights and clearances necessary to perform their music.

“Considering the rules and regulations involved and, where applicable, seeking advice to ensure compliance with these, will be essential to prevent any regulator- or platform-imposed penalties affecting the artist’s ability to livestream,” he says.

Elsewhere, IQ spoke to some of the pioneers who are establishing live streaming as a crucial new outlet for creativity and, potentially, a lasting revenue stream for artists and their teams. Read the first part of the series, which includes LiveFrom, Streamyard and Wookey Technologies’ Sansar, here.

The livestreaming boom has also seen major music streaming services jump on the bandwagon. Recently, Jay-Z’s streaming service Tidal has spent US$7 million on tokens issued by the company behind Sensorium Galaxy, a new VR “social metaspace” in which users can attend alternative-world concerts, nightclubs and festivals through a VR headset.

While, Spotify is developing a feature that will alert fans to an artist’s upcoming virtual events, according to a tweet by reverse engineer Jane Manchun Wong.

 


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Streaming scams target live music fans

A host of new streaming scams have cropped up in the past few months, with fraudsters setting up phoney Facebook pages and listing non-existent live streams in a bid to access personal information.

Streaming – be it of live performances, recorded music, films or television shows – has been an important part of accessing entertainment during lockdown, as music venues and cinemas remain shuttered and festivals are cancelled.

Criminals have capitalised on the increased time spent online, as well as the novelty of the accessing content in this way for many, and the uncertainty that has come with the Covid-19 crisis in general, to successfully target consumers across all sectors of society.

Major streaming services, including Netflix and Spotify, have been targeted by fraudsters, who have sent official-looking emails asking users to update their payment information.

Live music fans are also being targeted, with some scammers directing traffic away from legitimate live streams to their own page, in a bid to pocket “donations” or “tips” given to performers, and others posting false listings of livestreamed gigs and festivals to get hold of personal information.

Two such pages, one posing as Universal Music Group (@GroupMusicUniversal) and the other going under the name of Live Concert Music, list upcoming live streams for Rolling Loud Portugal, Michael Kiwanuka and Jill Scott, Cage the Elephant, Montreux Jazz Festival, Nickelback, Robbie Williams, Brad Paisley and Dave Matthews Band, among others.

Almost all streams are listed as happening on the same day, with links landing on pages for sites called Eventflix and Stream Concert. A section below the supposed streams show comments from “fans” – almost identical for each one – discussing the lack of lag, commending the quality of the stream and recommending the service to others.

“There is more opportunity for criminals to try and trick people into parting with their money at a time when they are anxious and uncertain about the future”

Viewers are encouraged to register for free in order to view the content, leading to a page asking for contact details and other information.

Another kind of streaming scam has seen hackers hijack YouTube channels to impersonate Elon Musk’s SpaceX channel, generating around $150,000 in Bitcoins.

The creation of unofficial event pages on Facebook is not a new phenomenon in the live events world. In 2018, IQ reported on a trend which saw phoney pages set up to drive fans to secondary ticketing sites, rather than official sellers. Email scams have also targeted fans, agents, promoters, festival organisers, artists and others for years.

The increase in streaming scams responds directly to the current climate, as more and more turn to online services – many for the first time – to experience live events.

“As more people stay indoors and work from computers and laptops at home, there is more opportunity for criminals to try and trick people into parting with their money at a time when they are anxious and uncertain about the future,” City of London police commander Karen Baxter, national co-ordinator of economic crime warned consumers at the end of March, just weeks into the coronavirus lockdown.

“It is important that we continue to raise awareness of fraud and protect ourselves, and the vulnerable people in our communities, the best we can.”

A further warning was issued by the National Trading Standards in the UK today, as the easing of lockdown measures is expected to bring on a surge of scam telephone calls in particular.

Members of the public are encouraged to protect themselves against scams by joining Friends Against Scams, a free online initiative that provides training to help people take a stand against scams.

 


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Facebook launches live events app Venue

Facebook’s new product experimentation team (NPE) has launched a new live event-focused app, Venue, a second screen for fans and expert commentators to discuss events in real time.

The release of Venue comes days after Facebook announced Collab, a short-form music video app that allows users to overlay as many as three recordings at a time to create remote musical collaborations.



Described as “the companion app to live events”, Venue acts as an interactive second screen for fans to comment on live events and engage with others watching.

Expert commentators such as journalists, artists, athletes or aspiring “fan-analysts” will host an in-app “venue” for any given event, providing commentary, posting interactive questions and polls and initiating short chats around specific moments.

Fans can join multiple “venues” to get different perspectives on the same event.

Facebook has launched a new live event-focused app, Venue, a second screen for fans and expert commentators to discuss events in real time

Notifications are sent out when a new “moment” is created, a short-lived digital opportunity for fan engagement at particularly interesting or memorable points in an event.

The idea, according to Facebook, is to facilitate a more efficient division of attention between the event and online commentary, as fans can “stop scrolling or searching to find the exact moment everyone is reacting to”.

Initially focusing on sporting events, Venue has partnered with the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (Nascar), making its debut alongside the Supermarket Heroes 500 race on Sunday (31 May).

Venue is available on iOS and Android in the United States. As with all NPE apps, Venue is experimental and subject to change.

Facebook, along with Instagram, is among social media platforms to increase opportunities for artists to monetise live streams during lockdown, allowing acts to charge for access to online performances and enhancing its tipping tool.


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Saudi fund adds Disney, Facebook to entertainment stocks

Saudi Arabia’s acquisitive sovereign-wealth fund added investments in leisure and media giants including the Walt Disney Company, Facebook and Marriott International in the first financial quarter of 2020, according to newly revealed US regulatory filings.

According to the Financial Times, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) – which made headlines last month after buying half a billion dollars’ worth of Live Nation shares – spent nearly US$8bn on US and European blue-chip stocks in the first three months of the year, as the Gulf kingdom seeks to benefit from low prices on stock markets spooked by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Live Nation share purchase, along with an earlier buy of Carnival Cruise Line stocks, were picked up by industry and financial press at the time, as the value of the deals (relative to the size of the companies) required that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) be notified.

However, the earlier purchases were also sizeable: Among the PIF’s pre-Live Nation investments are a $827.8m stake in BP, a $713.6m stake in Boeing and smaller investments in Bank of America, Citigroup, Starbucks and drugmaker Pfizer, reports the FT.

IF says it is “identifying opportunities to invest in solid companies with strong, long-term outlooks”

The stakes in Disney and Facebook are valued at $496m and $523m, respectively, SEC filings reveal.

The fund has also been linked with Warner Music Group in recent weeks.

A senior Saudi official told the FT in April that the kingdom had set up a dedicated team to look at the “midterm and long-term, downside and upside” of the global economic crisis caused by governments’ response to the spread of Covid-19.

The PIF says it is “identifying opportunities to invest in solid companies with strong, long-term outlooks who we expect will be sector leaders when global economic activity begins to approach pre-pandemic levels”.

Other sovereign funds in the oil-rich Middle East, including Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala, and the Qatar Investment Authority, are also seeking investment opportunities, the paper reports.

 


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Indian benefit concert raises almost US$7m

A virtual fundraising concert organised by Bollywood directors Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar in coordination with Facebook India has raised over Rs520 million (US$6.9m) to fight the coronavirus outbreak in India.

In the latest high-profile online benefit event, Mick Jagger, Joe Jonas, Bryan Adams and Will Smith performed from their homes along with Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Akshay Kumar in a five-hour concert, which was broadcast on Facebook on Sunday night (3 May).

Every donation generated by the I For India event goes to GiveIndia’s Covid response fund and is matched rupee for rupee by donors including Action Covid-19 Team, ATE Chandra Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Omidyar Network India and Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies.

According to charity GiveIndia, the I For India event has become the biggest live fundraiser on Facebook, raising Rs4.3m ($568,358) through individual donations and Rs477m ($6.3m) from corporate donors and philanthropists.

“Humbled by the love and trust showered on [us] via the I For India concert”

“Humbled by the love and trust showered on [us] via the #IFORINDIA concert,” reads a post on GiveIndia’s Twitter page. “Thank you – our galaxy of stars and to each and every one of you who have donated.”

GiveIndia’s relief efforts help provide PPE kits to healthcare workers and food, rations, and cash relief to daily wagers and migrant workers.

India’s 1.3 billion people have been in lockdown since 25 March. Restrictions have recently been eased, but they are expected to last until at least 17 May.

The incorporation of a ‘donate’ button into live videos, is one of a number of new video-related features introduced by Facebook, which has also augmented its tipping tool and now allows artists to charge for access to online performances.

Photo: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)

 


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