Bob Chapek took the reins at The Walt Disney Co. in February 2020 — just after the launch of Disney+, the company’s streaming service, and just before its theme parks were shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.
Now Chapek is looking beyond basic direct-to-consumer video streaming toward building an immersive digital “metaverse” — a kind of virtual reality environment that would allow Disney fans to take part in games, quests, and theme park-like experiences without hopping on a plane to Orlando, Anaheim, or Tokyo. One example he cited in a recent on-stage conversation with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, organized by the Boston College Chief Executives Club, was enabling a child to sit down to lunch at a table full of Disney princesses.
Chapek says the concept of a metaverse is still “kind of amorphous,” but he’s convinced that it’ll be part of the entertainment giant’s future, opening up new ways for its filmmakers and Imagineers to tell compelling stories.
Some of Chapek’s comments from the event follow.
The Metaverse is ‘The Next Horizon’
My mission is to enter the next 100 years stronger than we were in the [company’s] first 100 years.
To do that, we need to look at storytelling through the eyes of technology, so that the technology itself is hidden… People don’t want to see the core technology beneath the experience. They just want to say, “Wow, how did Disney do that?” The next horizon in that is the metaverse. There has been a lot talked about recently, and a lot written about it. It’s kind of amorphous. It’s a little bit hard to understand because it has not yet been created.
It’s tremendously liberating for a creative mind to now go into that three-dimensional canvas and take the physical and digital and bring it all together in one cohesive, untethered way.
I think when you’re the Walt Disney Company, we have this unique ability to take the physical manifestation of people’s lives, and blend it with the digital existence that they have — and to do that in a unique way, when you have parks and a digital platform like Disney+. No one else has that ability. We won’t be taking generic intellectual property that may not have the resonsance that our branded properties have. If you want to have lunch with the Disney princesses [in the metaverse], you can do that in the future, where we couldn’t have [previously] afforded our guests that fantastical exprience. That’s really what the Disney metaverse presents to us.
If you think of it from a creative standpoint — as I like to tell our creative leads at the different studios, whether Marvel, Lucasfilm, or Disney — you can now paint a three-dimensional canvas. If your specialty is movies, you’ve now branched out in the Disney+ world to creating series — like “The Mandalorian” or “WandaVision.” If you’re familiar with it, that wouldn’t have happened in a world of movies and TV shows. We needed more at-bats to do that and try something different. Now take that very same person, like Kevin Feige, who runs Marvel, and you say, “We have another dimension — and that’s to blend this physical world with the digital world,” without constaints… Break down all the borders and just entertain. It’s tremendously liberating for a creative mind to now go into that three-dimensional canvas and take the physical and digital and bring it all together in one cohesive, untethered way. I do think that’s the next generation. We’re excited.
Partnering with Outside Tech Firms vs. Building it Internally
To the extent that there are companies out there that are insurgents in their business, and innovators, we’d love to work with them, to partner and figure out how we can bring our service to our fans quicker and easier and faster. But at the same time, we will not cut deals that will constrain our ability to deliver on our visions. So often, people will say, “We’ll do a deal with you. We’ll work with you. But it means you can’t do this and this for the next seven years.” That’s when we’ll bow out, and say no. Between our R&D group, our Imagineering group, our media and technology group, we have some pretty great thinkers. That doesn’t mean that we can’t partner with certain folks — and we’re looking at that right now — in terms of enabling technologies, but not constraining technologies.
Between our R&D group, our Imagineering group, our media and technology group, we have some pretty great thinkers.
Don’t Rest on Your Laurels
Our core fans love Disney. They love legacy Disney. But at the same time, we know that part of our mission was established by Walt himself — he liked to say, “Disneyland will never be complete, as long as there is magic left in the world.” We take that calling seriously… We’ve got the opportunity to value tradition. You use that as your foundation. But don’t rest on your laurels and say, “That’s the way it was 60 years ago; that’s the way it has got to be today.” Because you know what happens if you do that — you become extinct.