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Bob Chapek’s metaverse dream is dead at Disney.
The entertainment giant shuttered its nascent metaverse division as part of Monday’s layoffs, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.
This week’s layoffs are the first round of cuts from CEO Bob Iger as he seeks to streamline the entertainment giant. Iger announced the cuts March 27 in an email to staff.
The division (technically called “next generation storytelling”) had been a pet project of Chapek, Disney’s former CEO.
He first mentioned it in a November 2021 earnings call, telling analysts that “our efforts to date are merely a prologue to a time when we’ll be able to connect the physical and digital worlds even more closely, allowing for storytelling without boundaries in our own Disney metaverse, and we look forward to creating unparalleled opportunities for consumers to experience everything Disney has to offer across our products and platforms, wherever the consumer may be.”
It was also something he noted in a manifesto to employees in January 2022, in which he used the “M” word as an opportunity for storytelling.
“Since Steamboat Willie, we have been the world’s foremost innovative storytellers,” Chapek wrote at the time. “That must continue as technology evolves, giving our creative teams new canvases like the metaverse on which to paint.”
He went on to create the division, though exactly what it was working on remains unclear.
In what would end up being his final public appearance as Disney CEO, at the Paley Center for Media in New York on Nov. 9, 2022, he said that the division was building “a set of tools.”
The goal, he said was to “put these tools in the hands of the Kathy Kennedys and the Kevin Feiges and Dana Waldens and help them really create that next level of storytelling, that is unique to you.”
For now, at least, those tools are being put back in the Disney vault.
The division was run by Mike White, a Disney Parks veteran, though the Wall Street Journal reports that he will be staying at the company. The Journal added that about 50 jobs were cut in the round of layoffs.
Disney is expected to undergo a larger round of layoffs next month, with a final round before summer begins in its effort to trim 7,000 jobs. Disney’s TV division was also hit by cuts Monday, with production and acquisitions most seriously impacted.
The metaverse division is the second creation of Chapek to be undone since Bob Iger returned as CEO. Iger dismantled the Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution division, led by Chapek lieutenant Kareem Daniel, in his first move after taking over. Many of the financial roles were instead shifted into Disney’s other divisions, giving those leaders oversight of revenues and profits.
While the metaverse dream might be over (even Chapek, for his part, stopped using the “M” word as it fell out of favor last year), the technology could still find its way into Disney’s projects. It just might happen within the theme park or studio divisions themselves.
Iger, it should be noted, is a technology enthusiast himself, having served on the board of Apple and having invested in a metaverse-related company after his retirement. He even noted in a town hall after returning the potential for AI-generated images or video to be used in Disney storytelling, though he added that was likely a long ways off.
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