Deeper Dive—Who needs a TV in the metaverse?

The metaverse is calling and one of the key converging technologies that will make it work is augmented reality. If AR breaks through, could it spell doom for TVs?

For a refresher on what the metaverse is, it’s helpful to refer to Matthew Ball’s essential 2020 essay on the matter. In it, he notes how the Internet is a wide set of protocols, technology, network infrastructure and languages with different access devices, content and communication experiences layered on top, and that the metaverse will be, too. It's essentially a digital world, one that's always on and has its own fully functioning economy, that exists alongside the analog world.

“The Metaverse will require countless new technologies, protocols, companies, innovations, and discoveries to work. And it won’t directly come into existence; there will be no clean ‘Before Metaverse’ and ‘After Metaverse,’” he wrote. “Instead, it will slowly emerge over time as different products, services, and capabilities integrate and meld together.”

AR will almost certainly be one of capabilities turned product and service that plays a significant role in the metaverse. During last month’s Destiny 2 Showcase, Bungie Co-Founder Jason Jones talked about AR as a technology that could eventually replace mobile and the TV.

“I think, in lot of cases, what’s going to happen is people are going to throw away their TV and have a way bigger TV or they’re going to go to a totally virtual space that has a way bigger screen,” he said during the livestream. “AR is going to be the thing that displaces mobile. I’m so sure of that. I’m so sure that we’re all going to be wearing glasses and all the TVs are going to go in a landfill [and] all those companies are going to go out of business.”

He admitted that it could still be 20 years before people are fully immersed in virtual pets and virtual views of the Eiffel Tower outside their windows but said he feels it will be a lot sooner than that. He added that the industry will know AR is going to take over the whole world because “everyone will laugh at it.”

“When the iPhone came out, the stuff people were saying to not admit that they were holding a chunk of the sun in their hands, that it was going to change the world. The stuff people said was ridiculous and people are going to do that again,” he said.

At the risk of proving him right, the idea of everyone throwing out their TVs — and, in turn, leaving all their peripheral devices (streaming box, gaming consoles, etc.) untethered — does seem a little laughable. Alan Wolk, co-founder and lead analyst at TV[R]EV, said he doesn’t think we will see AR completely replace TV.

“It’s a very different experience and it may be something that becomes very popular, [but] it will be in addition to TV, rather than a replacement,” he said. “Right now, AR seems to be more of a lean-in activity versus a lean back one and thus it will seem different to users.”

Smart TVs

Indeed, there still seems to be a lot of interest in smart TVs. Strategy Analytics recently released new data suggesting that more than 665 million homes worldwide owned a smart TV by the end of 2020, equaling 34% of global households. The firm said that figure is set to rise to 51% by 2026 when smart TV ownership will reach 1.1 billion homes.

All those smart TVs could present lucrative opportunities (beyond just sales) for manufacturers like Samsung, LG and Vizio that also run free, ad-supported streaming television (FAST) services on their platforms. A new report from TV[R]EV predicts those companies will see 4.5x growth in ad revenue by 2026, when it will reach $6.17 billion.

These projections and more are likely part of the drive behind Amazon solidifying its smart TV strategy while Comcast, TiVo and other companies look at ways to jump into the smart TV fray with Roku, Amazon, Samsung, LG, Vizio and the other market leaders.

Of course, there’s also reason to be extremely optimistic about the metaverse as massive companies like Facebook go all in and tech giants like Apple bet big on AR. The company is reportedly working on an AR/VR headset and even dropped an AR easter egg into its email invite for next week’s iPhone event.

The potential rise of AR and the metaverse are likely not contingent on one another, and it could still be decades before either or both become truly mainstream. For now, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, the TV and everything connected to it is still extremely popular. That could all possibly change some day and consumers may end up dumping their flat screens in favor of an AR/VR/MR environment that fits into the wider metaverse. But for now, it seems like the TV still has a safe place in the living room.