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iHeartMedia and Super League Gaming, a gaming and content platform, have struck a deal around advertising in virtual games and experiences (often collectively referred to as the metaverse).
Super League Gaming will take advantage of iHeartMedia’s existing relationships with thousands of brands looking to advertise in virtual worlds and introduce those buyers to Super League’s ad inventory on popular gaming platforms like Roblox and Minecraft.
The two companies will also collaborate on the launch of “iHeartLand,” a virtual world that will exist across metaverse platforms that caters to music fans and other iHeart listeners. But iHeartMedia’s partnership with Super League won’t solely be for ads in iHeartLand, as the media company will receive a cut of any deals facilitated through its pact with Super League, akin to how the iHeartPodcast Network works for podcast advertising.
iHeart — typically associated with music, podcasts and other audio content — first announced its metaverse ambitions in January by noting that the company would start launching events and other fan experiences on Roblox, a gaming platform that lets users create their own virtual worlds and interact in others’ creations. As of January, Roblox reported having 54.7 million daily active users and, during the 2021 fiscal year, hit $1.9 billion in revenue.
“These are huge audiences, and when we see that, we sit up straight at iHeart and say, ‘What do we look like on a platform like that?'” Conal Byrne, the president of the iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We are a mass reach media company. … We get that reach through influencers, through humans telling stories on microphones, whether they’re on broadcast airwaves or podcasts, but because it’s mass reach, we take notice when there are new platforms that are driving huge new audiences.”
Super League looks at virtual worlds from the perspective of a games publisher to see how metaverse advertising can keep users engaged, rather than turn them away, according to Matt Edelman, Super League’s chief commercial officer and evp operations, and Ann Hand, Super League’s chair and CEO.
“It’s one thing to build a game. You’ve got to make sure people want to play it and that they want to go back to it and that there’s really exciting content that comes out of it because that’s what really feeds the wheel,” Hand says. “These are very dynamic, innovative ad products. So whether it’s these fully custom worlds or unique, engaging memes and characters that you can engage with, these are all things that make the gameplay more fun and don’t make the gamer feel like they’re being shouted at.”
Byrne likens the opportunities for metaverse advertising to the early years of podcast advertising, when that space was a relative “unknown” to a lot of brands “who couldn’t quite wrap their heads around it.”
To help encourage newcomers to the space, Edelman says Super League has worked with advertisers on billboards and animated GIFs that resemble a short video experience in these 3D, virtual environments. Other examples include bringing vehicles directly into the gameplay for users to ride or characters who exist in these spaces to make announcements related to the brand.
Though specific plans for iHeartLand have not yet been announced, Jessica Jerrick, iHeartMedia’s evp of business development and partnerships, says other metaverse ad examples in the iHeart context could include characters of Ryan Seacrest or Charlamagne Tha God in iHeartLand that fans can interact with.
“We have genuinely not been this excited about digital media at iHeart … since we [first] jumped into podcasting,” Byrne says. “[This] is a whole entire new universe that iHeart can move into.”
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