The Future of Entertainment

Troy Carter, Marc Merrill, and Juan Borrero reflect on innovations in entertainment.
By Lindsey Marlowe

Last Updated: October 7, 2020

Published: September 2, 2020


The world in which we’re currently living has never before seen consumer behavior change so quickly. We expect to continue to see these seismic changes over the next decade. At M13, we invest in companies that are building defensible businesses around emerging consumer behaviors in the essential areas of consumer’s daily lives: food, healthcare, entertainment, and financial services.

For our 2020 Summer Series “Future Perfect” conversations, we’ve brought together founding leaders who have shaped and are shaping current and future generations of great businesses. Together, we seek to further understand how today’s health and economic crises are accelerating behaviors and white spaces for new necessities, innovations, and investments.

Entertainment is one of the largest exports of the United States, and it has proven to influence culture as well as consumer behaviors. For its present and future, the need for diversity, responsibility, and even grace is paramount as our understanding of interaction and the technology needed for it evolves alongside a global crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the creation, consumption, and participation in virtual and livestream events. And where there are audiences thirsty for content, there is an open invitation for innovation and opportunities for creators to not only distribute their work and engage with fans, but become influencers or celebrities on a scale (and with a speed) unparalleled in the past. 

This conversation on The Future of Entertainment is moderated by M13 Co-founder and Partner Courtney Reum, featuring innovation pioneers in the entertainment industry:

  • Troy Carter, Founder and CEO of Q&A, a music and technology company focused on building integrated solutions for artists via distribution, management, label services, and data analytics with a highly collaborative, artist-driven approach.
  • Marc Merrill, Co-Chairman and Co-founder of Riot Games, the game developer and publisher behind League of Legends, the most played online game in the world and a key driver in the growth of esports.
  • Juan Borrero, Senior Partnerships Manager (and the 23rd employee) at Snap, parent company of the multimedia messaging app (and platform for all our favorite photo filters), Snapchat.‍

How has COVID-19 affected the entertainment industry? Have there been any secondary effects that many might not be aware of?

The conversations and innovations around working remotely have increased, as has considering workers’ mental health and the resources available, whether you're in an office or WFH.

In the video game industry, usage has tremendously increased. This is due to our desire to connect, which we cannot do in person, and so engagement in online games and high-quality entertainment becomes our avenue of connection with others.

In-person events have had to pivot away from stadiums and live audiences, with the players or performers now in their own homes instead of studios or with professional crews. As such, production value has declined.

The inefficient and physically high-touch way artists have moved around the world, typically in person for promotions and visits as well as performances, has gone entirely virtual. This is something that will likely continue, even post-COVID, even though virtual events and livestreaming are not behaviors that fans are used to in the U.S.

Working directly with partners and creators to produce content specifically tailored to this moment aids in educating and keeping users up to date on what is a very dynamic situation.

Is there a place for Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in reshaping the experience of a live performance or event?

The live concert experience is ripe for innovation in the realm of VR and AR, as the most desired seats in the venue (front row) are now available to all virtually, making for a better fan experience.

Artists and creators can harness AR in a multimedia app to further distribute their work while also engaging with their fans on a new level. Already, having an AR component as part of a launch is becoming increasingly more important. It’s something easily shareable, around the world.

Platforms are more engaged in answering the question of what is a great user experience, but the question remains: How do we best channel incredible experiences to people while limited by physical restrictions?

What do you see as the future of input, if it’s not happening via the keyboard and mouse? Also, how will it affect voice and other audio?

Direct, hardwired input like keyboard analysis or similar will probably persist for a while but, as Artificial Intelligence continues its exponential improvement, the ability to synthesize voice and the interpretation of voice commands will evolve into a tangible and usable interface.

Computers will inevitably become more and more integrated into the things we wear, as well as much more intuitive in terms of how we interact with them. Imagine being able to play a game where there are ninjas and pirates in the middle of New York City and a VR Godzilla smashing buildings, and anyone can log in and experience it in real time. This capability is coming.

When playing a video game, the player listens to a song that’s predictable while experiencing different outcomes in the action, so there is an opportunity in making music content more dynamic and more interactive. What’s next would be giving the player, or fan, a different listening experience based on their role and actions.

Who is the new creator, and what tools or services are going to be a part of the technological package for success in the future for them? Is there a place in the world for the "virtual influencer"?

There are so many physical limitations placed on human influencers, especially as it relates to travel. The scale associated with virtual influencers is unlimited, so there is a phenomenal opportunity there. 

In the past, it used to be that film stars were the top of the food chain and TV stars were thought of as lesser. We’re going through a similar period with YouTube and online creators, where the common (mis)conception is that “no one really cares about YouTubers” when in reality for Gen Z, these YouTubers have already become their major celebrities.

The number of verticals where you can be considered a creator or an influencer is now more than just TV or film. Even creators of AR lenses on Snapchat are beginning to grow their distribution and fan bases, forming real businesses. Creators can also be stars simply within their own niche, carving out incredible influence and lucrative businesses by serving niche communities. It’s a marked shift away from the traditional route to stardom or success.

There is great possibility in intellectual property in terms of characters and utilization across different channels and various consumer products. For example, how Nike is sponsoring famous League of Legends players; this sort of partnership and the potential for virtual sponsorships is of tremendous interest.

How can the entertainment industry ensure that it’s fostering an inclusive environment and representing diverse voices?

In order to serve a broad consumer base, a diverse group needs to be present at the table. Diversity, not only of hiring within the company but of thought and of content, is crucial and something companies need to actively cultivate.

Companies that view themselves as niche businesses, hyper-focused on a particular audience, will have to become more diverse if they seek growth. It is absolutely critical to have people in the room who can relate to the perspective of the audience that you're trying to serve.

A person is more than their résumé. It’s critical to look at who they are as a person, their qualities, and take chances in giving chances.

Diverse teams with diverse ideas and a sort of healthy friction leads to the best creative content. Different creators, different mediums, different audiences, and different cultures find the different elements of what's cool, helping to shape and create the future.