With the Metaverse market estimated to be an $8-trillion opportunity in the coming five years, fashion brands are going big on this next big thing so stay relevant in their game. Is it an opportunity for smart companies or a just bubble? During a 'Metaverse - From Fantasy to Reality' panel discussion at Fortune India's 40 Under 40 Awards today, Vignesh Selvaraj, founder, TardiVerse, says it is an opportunity and the next era of the internet. "When you take internet. People were scared of how data will be transferred. After the pandemic, virtual reality and extended reality, I feel metaverse will be the next very big opportunity where people don't want to travel or want to have a different experience. Like you go to a supermarket and find predefined clothes. But in the metaverse, any kind of design can be found and you can customise everything yourself.”

Shuvadip Banerjee, chief digital marketing officer, ITC, says the metaverse is definitely not a bubble that’ll burst. “We moved from an information economy to a platform economy. Now we are moving towards an ownership economy, so we are going to be part owners. It helps in decentralising the entire data or monopoly in a particular platform space. It also brings in an entirely new consumer experience. The immersive experience possible in the metaverse will engage a lot more brand building. "

Ramkumar Subramaniam, CEO and co-founder, GuardianLink, thinks metaverse is an extension of social media and the online world. "About $57 billion have been invested into the metaverse last year and this year we are halfway through and almost $120 billion have already been invested. Brands are seeing this as a much more immersive experience. So if someone builds NikeWorld and someone spends two hours in NikeWorld, it's two hours of ads Nike is pushing on to you. You don't see such an experience these days. The experience is going to go much more immersive and much more hands-on. What you could do with it is completely up to your imagination. Brands, as per their ethos, are trying to build something of their own in this space."

Neeraj Roy, founder, Hungama, says there are three-four components to the metaverse. “Our journey as consumers into the metaverse began when we started doing ani-moji or basic emojis. More virtualisation will happen (in future). I read this as a journey of going from the internet to a more persistent virtual world. Along with this, there will be an entire space of big data, which means whatever action is happening, there's data and computing happening. We are six here physically today. I visualise a scenario not too long in the future, four years perhaps, where we may have 2-4-20 avatars of ours and you'll, because of the whole space of Web 3, have control of that avatar or the data being asked. AI will create different learning experiences.”

Puneet Das, president, Tata Consumer Products, says the metaverse is an amalgamation of the physical and virtual world. “It is a natural progression into the future. You differentiate between hype and genuine trend by looking from a consumer lens. Virtual and physical world are going to overlap, enhancing the experience and hence it's a big opportunity."

On what kind of business models are likely to come up on the metaverse, GuardianLink's Subramaniam says he thinks it's going to start with entertainment. “Music concerts, events like this (Fortune India 40 Under 40 Awards) will happen on the metaverse. Gaming would a great business model. E-commerce and food e-commerce are also going to be big things."

Hungama MD Roy says in the four verticals of entertainment, gaming, art and fashion, his company is developing a marketplace wherein NFTs are a gateway into the metaverse. “In the next four-five years, almost every existing business model will need to get realigned to embrace this change.”

Vignesh Selvaraj, CEO, TardiVerse, says entertainment is the first key to dragging people into the metaverse. “Without people, the metaverse is nothing. We are attracted to entertainment movies, cricket, etc. Let's take the movies. Into the metaverse, it'll be more than watching on screen, it'll be more like you can be near Shah Rukh Khan. People don't want to travel. In future, people will be lazy about travelling. More than money, time will be their main thing.”

In India, most brands are using the metaverse as a marketing tool. Globally some brands are already moving 2-5% of their digital spending to the metaverse. Will the space see major marketing bucks being allocated for metaverse?

Tata Consumer Products' Das says all good ideas start with consumers. "We were coming out of Covid, and there was an uncertainty. In that context, we said how can we recreate the Holi experience for people? That's how the metaverse thought just came in. We launched the Holi metaverse for Tata tea Premium, where people could choose avatars, and could participate in Holi. We tied up with some influencers. The point is brands want to engage with consumers in a more differentiated way. This is a natural evolution. Brands should be bold, try something from a use case basis and then decide on the experience they want to give to consumers."

ITC's Banerjee also sees it as an evolution. “What new unlocks can happen we'll see. But taking a step back, similar conversations were happening in 2010-12 when we were talking about why should somebody come to an e-commerce site and buy a packet of business. Then the conversation moved to why branding on social media, and not TV? The same thing is happening now.”

The metaverse world is part of the Web 3.0 ecosystem, which means a consumer would not just be able to interact and buy, but also have ownership. But wow prepared is India Inc for Web 3.0? Selvaraj of Tardiverse says in India, the internet in many areas speed could pose hurdles. “5G and 6G will enable the possibilities of the metaverse much faster.”

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