Research | Opportunities and challenges for the development of the media industry in the context of the meta universe

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Source:Guangming Daily

Author: Fang Liming, Director of China Newspaper All Media Development Research Center.

Image source:Boundless Layout AI Toolgenerate

From March 2021, when the game company Roblox was successfully listed on NASDAQ as the "first share of the meta universe", to October of the same year, when social media Facebook changed its name to Meta in order to expand the meta universe, the concept of the meta universe appeared in the public view and quickly became popular, and 2021 was subsequently called the "first year of the meta universe".

The underlying technologies such as virtual reality, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and wearable devices have become increasingly mature. After the dividend of mobile Internet has gradually faded, the economic society has an urgent demand for new tracks. In addition, the accelerated development of social virtualization during the epidemic period, all kinds of reasons are driving the era of the universe to come to us at an accelerated pace. In this context, a forward-looking review of the development of the media industry will help the media industry better grasp the times and play its social functions.


1ใ€ The Concept and Characteristics of the Metauniverse


There are many discussions on the concept, connotation and characteristics of the meta universe. It can be predicted that its characteristics in time and space, virtual and real will certainly have a great impact on the development of the media industry.

1. The concept of meta universe. As an exotic product, "Metaverse" is translated from "Metaverse". "Metaverse" is the combination of "Meta" and "Verse", which literally means "the universe beyond reality". This word first appeared in the science fiction Snow Crash (avalanche) written by Neil Stephenson in 1992, which depicts a parallel universe that is born out of the real world and can be entered as a virtual identity through a public interface. Before that, Qian Xuesen, a famous scientist, appeared "Virtual Reality" in the manuscript he sent to Wang Cheng in 1990. In his letter, he said he liked to translate it into a "spiritual realm" with a distinctive Chinese flavor, believing that it would greatly expand the human brain and trigger changes that would shock the world. This idea can be called the germination of the meta universe in China.

At present, there is no unified definition of the meta universe. Wikipedia defines the meta universe as a "collective virtual shared space", including "the sum of virtual world, augmented reality and the Internet"; Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, called the Metauniverse the "Embodied Internet" with a strong sense of immersion; Yu Guoming, a domestic scholar, believes that the Metauniverse is an "open source platform highly interconnected with reality and constructed by a closed-loop economy". Its six supporting technologies are blockchain technology, interactive technology, electronic game technology, artificial intelligence technology, network and computing technology, and the Internet of Things technology; Zhu Jiaming regards the meta universe as a virtual world that refers to the real world but is independent of the real world. Therefore, we can think that the meta universe is a virtual space built by VR, AR, MR, blockchain, Internet of Things and other technologies that integrates with the real world or will be independent of the real world. Real humans live in this space in the form of "virtual people".

2. The characteristics of the meta universe. A comprehensive analysis of the connotation of the meta universe shows that it has four characteristics.

First, space and time expansion. Time and space are both composed of data in the meta universe. The meta universe will redefine the past and the future, the distance and the near, break the linearity of time and the finiteness of space, and make time and space show the characteristics of timeless, borderless and unlimited expansion. When human beings enter the virtual space of the meta universe through the digital avatar "virtual human", they will completely get rid of the space-time barriers with the physical world, bringing a new experience beyond the reality perception.

Second, open participation. Relying on free and open source code and network protocols supporting interoperability, the meta universe carries an open ecology that can be innovated and created according to the free will of users. Everyone is a participant and creator, who can independently build the module of the meta universe, and realize the collaborative interconnection of different ports in the platform.

The third is the integration of reality and falsehood. The Research Report on the Development of the Metauniverse (Version 2.0) released by the New Media Research Center of Tsinghua University pointed out that the standard construction steps of the meta universe include four stages: digital twins, virtual primitives, virtual reality symbiosis, and virtual reality interaction. With the iterative upgrading of VR, AR, MR, 3D restoration and other technologies and equipment, the meta space will develop from the mirror image of the real world to the stage of real and virtual information fusion, symbiosis, linkage and interaction. Whether it is the highly linkage of visual, auditory, tactile, taste, smell and other sensory experiences, or the close integration of economic and cultural systems, it will break the barriers between reality and virtual, allowing users to enter an immersive environment that is indistinguishable from reality.

Fourth, economic appreciation. Benefiting from blockchain technology, Metauniverse has an independent, comprehensive and sustainable economic system, and "virtual people" realize economic appreciation through value creation. On the one hand, it is to realize the self circulation of the economic system in the independent space of the meta universe and obtain the benefits of the virtual economy; On the other hand, in the interaction between the meta universe and the real world, the circulation of assets is realized, so as to obtain real economic benefits. It can be said that the economic value-added has provided a continuous impetus for the sustainable development of the meta universe.


2ใ€ Opportunities brought by the universe to the media industry


While blockchain, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and other technologies have infiltrated our lives, they have also changed the news industry. Today, when traditional media are faced with problems such as channel failure, loss of users, and decline of influence, the germination of the meta universe will bring new vitality to the media industry. The media must keep up with the overall requirements, audience changes and technological progress if they want to undertake their duties and missions well. The application of new technologies and new ideas brought by the universe will not only reactivate the media productivity and strengthen the communication effect, but also reconstruct the profit model of the traditional media industry, bringing new profit growth points.

1. Users create content together to activate media productivity. The open participation form of the universe will further upgrade the "content produced by users" to "content co created by users", thus forming a content ecology of multi subject collaborative creation and comprehensively activating media productivity. In the new media era, UGC (user production content), PGC (professional production content), MGC (machine production content) and other content production models have become increasingly perfect, but they are more independent and competitive. However, in the meta universe era, journalists, users, experts, machines, virtual people, institutions and other production subjects can freely collaborate to create news media content. This will undoubtedly reconstruct the communication network of the media industry, stimulate the new potential of the media industry, greatly improve the production efficiency, and then form an integrated media ecology with multiple subjects co creating and complementing each other.

2. Immerse in the scene experience and strengthen the communication effect. From symbol transmission to embodied transmission, from linear broadcasting to scene construction, the virtual reality integration of the meta universe will bring users an immersive experience, the use of multiple senses will strongly mobilize emotions, and the communication ceremony on the scene will promote common value emotions, thus strengthening the effect of communication. Different from reading newspapers, listening to radio and watching TV in the past, in the communication network of the meta universe, people can immerse themselves in the constructed scene through virtual reality technology, so as to obtain a psychological and emotional experience far stronger than that brought by traditional media. In 2015, the New York Times cooperated with Google to release the VR news The Displaced. This work makes people feel as if they are in a dilapidated environment after the Syrian war, and see refugee children forced to leave their hometown. Such personal experience can stimulate users' deep and sincere feelings, and achieve the news vision of maintaining world peace through sympathy. The digital scene built by the meta universe will not only bring people a sense of immersion, but also be interactive. Users are no longer onlookers, but participants in the news scene. When many virtual people participate in the communication activities to form a "media ceremony", its communication effect is self-evident.

3. Upgrade NFT and advertising to promote profit restructuring. In the meta universe, the ownership of media products and the advertising business of new scenes will bring new economic growth points to the media industry and promote the restructuring of the media industry's profit model. At present, many traditional media are in a dilemma situation of "secondary sales" failure, advertising plummeting, and economic profits declining significantly. Therefore, the economic value-added of the universe will provide a great opportunity for the media industry to fight a good business turnaround. NFT (Non homogenous Token) is the cryptocurrency of digital assets, and an important way to realize virtual assets. It is also commonly represented by "digital collections", with unique property rights. In March 2021, the Associated Press sold its first report on the US presidential election in the blockchain as NFT, and finally sold it at a price of 180000 dollars. It can be seen that media works, as digital collections, have unique commercial and cultural values. No matter the text of the news report, or the news title, picture, audio, video, etc., can be sold as NFT, which can not only obtain the actual economic benefits, but also prevent infringement in the form of sole ownership. At the same time, the new scenes constructed by the media industry in the meta universe will certainly bring about the upgrading and iteration of the advertising business.


3ใ€ The challenge of the universe to the media industry


Stiegler once said, "Technology is not only the power of human beings themselves, but also the power of human self destruction." As a new thing, the universe has a broad prospect of development and application, and there are many uncertainties. While giving the media industry unlimited vitality, it also brings new risks and challenges, which is worthy of our in-depth review and research.

1. Simple handling rather than innovative creation. When the media enters a new media, it is often a problem to simply transfer the content of the old media to the new media. The way of communication that is not new and suitable for the meta universe will not only reduce the effect of communication, but also affect the social order formed by the meta universe. The open game Second Life was once regarded as a sample of the meta universe. Users worked together in the game to build a Utopia full of creativity and vitality. There were all kinds of strange buildings and virtual lives different from the normal ones in the real world. Some fairy castles were no longer constrained by gravity, and some giant snails were running. However, when the game welcomed millions of users and real world brands entered the game world one after another, Adidas' sneakers replaced the cool jet boots, and Toyota replaced the exotic aircraft... All these lessons warn the media that when entering the meta universe, they cannot blindly pursue new technology and ignore the real needs and information preferences of new media users, and should not let formalism "put old wine in new bottles".

2. The public opinion under the real hidden worries and public noise. The co creation of content by users makes the production subjects of the Metauniverse more extensive and diverse. While users have great freedom, it will also bring about concerns about the authenticity of the content and the difficulty of controlling the trend of public opinion. Authenticity is the life of news, but the lack of "gatekeepers" in the meta universe and the uneven quality of users' media easily lead to the proliferation of false information and rumors, and it is difficult to define and guarantee the authenticity of news. In addition, the decentralized and tamper proof characteristics of blockchain technology make it difficult to clarify false information and rumors. Even if the source can be traced quickly, it is also difficult to delete false content. At the same time, it is more difficult to predict the trend of public opinion under the loud noise. The negative impact of the post truth era will intensify in the universe, and immersive experience will let users' emotions go first. How to do a good job in guiding public opinion in the meta cosmic communication ecology has become a difficult problem that needs to be solved urgently.

3. Anomie of media ethics and hegemony of invisible media. The meta cosmic environment cannot avoid the increasingly fierce media market competition and capital penetration, which will lead to new ethical anomies and imperceptible media hegemony. Ordinary users lack media literacy, the sense of professional ethics and social responsibility of the media industry has declined, and the legal and social supervision is not in place. For various reasons, media ethics anomies such as privacy disclosure, media trials, entertainment, and media violence frequently occur. In 2021, the "Qinglang" series of actions launched by the National Cyberspace Office cleared up more than 22 million pieces of illegal and bad information. In the meta space, this data will grow exponentially. Blockchain provides a safe haven for sensitive and bad information, and it is difficult to clean up. In addition, the virtual reality, artificial intelligence, deep learning and other technologies required by the meta universe are often monopolized by the head technology companies, focusing on the field of news media. Technology monopoly is very likely to bring media hegemony. Throughout the Internet platform Baidu, its technical architecture and business model have caused constant controversy from the bidding ranking event in the past few years, the Wei Zexi event to the father's speech event of Zhang Zixin, a counterfeit missing girl, in 2019. The high threshold requirements of the universe on technology are more likely to lead to capital using technology black box and head effect to manipulate public opinion, virtually forming media hegemony and infringing the public's right to know.


4ใ€ Suggestions on the Development of Media Industry under the Background of Metauniverse


As a new generation of technology aggregation and a huge industrial market, Yuanuniverse has brought new experiences and opportunities to the development of the media industry. The media industry needs to grasp the opportunities of the times and cope with new challenges from the three aspects of thinking change, talent training and system innovation.

1. Thinking change: establish user thinking and reconstruct communication scenarios. The extreme openness of the universe provides a platform for endless creativity of producers. The traditional media should not be complacent, but should actively transform and apply digital thinking, explore innovative communication methods and content scenarios based on the integration of reality and fiction, promote the continuous expansion of their own production chain, communication chain and value chain, and achieve high-quality integration of the whole process media, holographic media, all member media and full effect media. In the past, news products were often linear, and the audience only needed to follow the reporter's perspective to understand the news panorama. However, under the background of the meta universe, virtual human can go into the scene constructed by news products, explore the information they want to know, and interact with the objects in the scene. This requires the media to change their ideas, do a good job in market insight, fully understand the needs of users, and use creative thinking and digital technology to build a three-dimensional and diversified communication scene.

2. Talent cultivation: cultivate "all-round" journalists in the era of the universe. The era of the meta universe has put forward higher dimensional requirements for media people. They should not only have professional content production capacity, but also have higher technical literacy, master the communication ability of cloud space, uphold the news ideal, professional ethics, and adhere to the authenticity of news. Journalists in traditional media are used to fighting alone and follow up news events independently. But in the cloud universe of "users create content together", media people need to cooperate with users, virtual people, artificial intelligence, etc. Therefore, the media industry should focus on strengthening technical literacy training, learning virtual reality, artificial intelligence and other technologies, introducing technical personnel, cultivating innovative creative thinking, and playing a "gatekeeper" role in time to adapt to the information dissemination order of the meta universe. Communication between the media industry and colleges should be strengthened, focusing on improving the training of professional media talents. For example, NetEase and Fudan University jointly built a "media content laboratory" to incubate talents. In the era of the meta universe, higher requirements have also been put forward for the public's media literacy. In the face of more massive information and the combination of virtual and real situations, the public's ability to understand, choose and criticize needs to be further improved, so that new media resources and emerging technologies can be used constructively to promote the formation of a more healthy, green and shared media ecology.

3. Institutional innovation: build a multi-party linkage governance mechanism. In order to deal with the problem of media ethics anomie and invisible media hegemony, we should advocate the government, enterprises, users, organizations and other multiple subjects to jointly establish multi-level legal norms and evaluation systems that can be jointly supervised and questioned. Nolan once proposed that "the camera pretends to be objective", but in fact, the photographer's subjective thought has already been integrated into the camera orientation, composition, shooting angle, etc. The invisible media hegemony hides the value logic of the people on whom technology depends. Under the background of the meta universe, media with more discourse power and explanatory power should not be included by capital. As the head of the meta universe, media and scientific and technological capital need to accept government control and social supervision, and shoulder due social responsibilities and obligations. Face the "invisible hegemony" directly from the technical logic and social logic, such as closing the "ZAO" face changing software with potential information security risks. The government should formulate scientific and reasonable laws and regulations that adapt to the development of the meta universe, and restrict and supervise the bad behaviors in the meta universe communication ecology.

In the face of the society in the process of technological change, Heidegger once said, "Technology is the driving force of the times, but it is always people with subjective consciousness who can control technology to affect the process of the times". As a virtual space built on a number of technologies, Yuanuniverse reshapes the media industry with its space time expansion, openness and participation, integration of reality and fiction, and economic appreciation. At the advent of the meta cosmic era, the media industry needs to reflect on the problems that technology may bring with a "rearview mirror" perspective, so that technology can better serve the people, the society and the future. (The author Fang Liming is the director of China Newspaper All Media Development Research Center)


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