Radio and music streaming platform, iHeartMedia, is jumping into the metaverse. On Wednesday, iHeart announced its plans for Roblox, the open-world video game, where it will open a virtual stadium to produce digital concerts, similar to how iHeart recently opened a venue in Fortnite.
iHeart is trying to establish an early foothold in what is being called the metaverse, which for now is still very much rooted in the video game genre with worlds such as Roblox and Fortnite, where players have free roam of the place and brands can create their own experiences.
What spurred this sudden change? “We want to meet listeners where they are,” said Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group, in a recent video call. In this case, 52.2 million people play on Roblox daily, and they are mostly younger audiences, who are not on terrestrial radio like they are on other mediums such as social media. Last week, iHeart held its first concert in Fortnite, where Charlie Puth played.
Furthemore, Byrne expressed true belief in the potential longevity of this venture for the platform. “This is not a short-term project for us […] I think actually that’s where other folks in the metaverse have fallen down a little bit, with a one-and-done stunt, where the theatre goes dark after one event in the metaverse.”
In regards to how iHeartland will work in Roblox, here is a framework; There is a virtual neighbourhood where people can collect in-game rewards and exchange them for “iHeartBucks”. Players can run their own radio stations, which are storefronts inside the neighbourhood, and the players unlock songs and playlists. It is a “tycoon” game, which is a popular genre.
Roblox will trade virtual goods, such as merchandise related to performing artists, in exchange for in-game currency. There is a venue sponsored by Intel, where players can pick up items that enhance the performance of their avatars. And State Farm branding is all over the place in the park and concert venue; there’s even a trampoline that plays the State Farm jingle when a player bounces. The concert venue will host 10 concerts and 10 podcasts over the first year, Byrne said. On Friday, the singer Lauv will be the first performer.
iHeartMedia is really capitalising on an area which is seeing much deliberation and uncertainty as well as excitement and curiosity. Part of Facebook’s rebrand was designed to first compete with virtual worlds such as Roblox and Fortnite. Meta owns VR headsets and apps like Horizon Worlds. But the metaverse is expected to incorporate mixed reality that blends real-world settings with holographic interactivity. There also are blockchain-based gaming worlds, such as Decentraland and The Sandbox, that incorporate NFTs, cryptocurrencies, and virtual real estate.
The decision to move into Web3 positions iHeart as a forward thinking company. “Everybody is hoping at some point there will be a convergence of all of these worlds,” said Jessica Jerrick, executive VP of business development and partnerships for iHeartMedia. “If I had my crystal ball, we’re probably a few years out from that.”
Last week, Roblox said it would launch new ad units in the games that could help marketers like iHeartMedia drive players to their activations in the game. The “immersive” ads appear on virtual billboards in the game, and there are ads with portals that take players to a brand’s spot. For now, iHeart works mostly with Super League Gaming, a video game-based experiential marketing firm, which has “street teams” inside Roblox that promote brands. The “street teams” are non-playable characters that move around Roblox to promote activities from brands.
State Farm’s deal with iHeart gives the brand an easy way to show up as it already does in the real world, with naming rights on stadiums, only this one is virtual and moving into a new and yet undecided world.