Beyond the screen: The opportunity for TV and film in virtual worlds in 2023 & beyond

The convergence of TV, film and gaming isn’t a novel concept. From Angelina Jolie’s iconic portrayal of Lara Croft to HBO’s more recent triumph with The Last of Us, the leveraging of IP between TV, film and gaming has long been mutually beneficial. But this relationship is evolving. 

When Netflix’s Executive Chairman said in 2019 that ‘our focus is not on Disney+, Amazon or others’, he indicated a strategic shift towards gaming, arguing that ‘we compete (and lose to) Fortnite’. This was at a time when the opportunity in virtual gaming platforms for brands across most industries was not widely recognised. 

GEEIQ: Number of brand experiences in Q3 2019 vs. Q3 2023

Today, the opportunity for TV and film in these spaces goes far beyond incorporating iconic characters into platforms as playable skins. It’s now about bringing TV and film IP into the very fabric of these virtual spaces.

So, what are the different ways TV and film IP can be leveraged on these platforms, who’s been successful, and what’s the opportunity today?

Virtual worlds provide TV and film a unique channel in which to captivate audiences beyond the passive act of viewing. By activating in virtual worlds like Roblox, brands can ensure audience engagement extends far beyond a single episode or movie. 

This approach not only prolongs the life cycle of a show, but it can also aid in viewer retention and the expansion into new demographics, particularly on platforms like Roblox where over half of the user base is under the age of 24.

Take the Stranger Things Immersive Watch Party in Roblox, which took place in November 2022. Players were not only able to watch featured episodes, but they could interact with elements of the show to earn points.

GEEIQ: Total Visits and Active Players for Countdown to Stranger Things, Roblox

This also saw Netflix collaborate with Vans for a collection of limited Stranger Things items, as well as the Vans World Roblox experience featuring an ‘Upside-Down’ themed area. 

Like Walmart leveraging music in Roblox, Vans proved that there are monetisable opportunities for brands in every vertical to play host to TV and film IP.

But these types of immersive experiences aren’t restricted to content that caters to younger audiences. AMC’s The Walking Dead, which is rated 15+, ventured into The Sandbox in 2021, a blockchain-based platform that has as nearly as many 35 – 44 year old users as it does under 24’s. 

Likewise, Western TV and film IP isn’t restricted by Western gaming environments. South Korean platform ZEPETO has been utilised by Disney to create immersive experiences around some of its most famous IP, with its Toy Story 4 experience attracting 16 million total visits since launching in 2022.

GEEIQ: Engagement metrics for four of Disney’s experiences on ZEPETO.

More recently, Livetopia, a Roblox experience that has had over 4 billion total visits since launching in 2021, teamed up with DreamWorks Animation for the release of the movie, Trolls Band Together. The integration (which is an increasingly popular tactic for brands activating in these spaces) showcased a successful convergence of film, music and gaming.

Visitors could take part in an exclusive listening party which featured *NSYNC’s first original recording in over two decades, as well as watch a virtual concert by fictional boy band, ‘BroZone’, composed of artists of varying genres and demographics – including Troye Sivan, Kid Cudi and Justin Timberlake.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) franchise tapped both Roblox and Fortnite in promotion of its 2023 release. In Roblox, TMNT IP was leveraged in two separate experiences. 

GEEIQ: Total visits – TMNT experiences in Roblox vs. opening weekend ticket sales in the US

The first aired an immersive trailer for the movie which allowed users to earn a free user-generated content (UGC) backpack, while the second was a Battle Tycoon game. 

Across their opening weekends, visits to both experiences in Roblox exceeded the amount of cinema tickets sold in the US.

And when it came to the first 30 days of TMNT Battle Tycoon!, the experience outperformed comparable Media & Entertainment experiences across key metrics of Total Visits, Average Daily Visits and Approval Rating. 

GEEIQ: 30 day engagement metrics for TMNT: Battle Tycoon vs. comparable experiences

Coming in 2024, Roblox will be bringing video ads into its ecosystem, enabling movie and TV content, including trailers, to be integrated into an experience.

This shift in the way TV and film IP can be leveraged isn’t just about consumer engagement; it’s a strategic move towards lucrative monetisation. Virtual worlds offer avenues for in-game purchases, exclusive virtual merchandise, and premium access to virtual events, solidifying brand loyalty by delivering unique, valuable experiences.

We’re witnessing the emergence of a future where virtual worlds seamlessly integrate into storytelling and brand engagement strategies for TV and film. 

This marks a groundbreaking frontier in entertainment marketing, where the boundaries between traditional and virtual media are blurred, ushering in a new era of immersive, interactive experiences for audiences on a global scale.

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