Disney’s first round of layoffs knocked the metaverse off its priority list

·3 min read
Where metaverse dreams don’t come true.
Where metaverse dreams don’t come true.

The Mouse House is moving away from the metaverse.

Disney has scrapped its next-generation storytelling and consumer experiences unit, the division that was tasked with developing metaverse strategies, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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About a year ago, in February 2022, the entertainment giant named Mike White as head of the new department. Then-CEO Bob Chapek said that “the so-called metaverse…is the next great storytelling frontier,” and White’s job would be to “establish our overall vision and strategy for the consumer journey through these new story worlds.” This would include allocating resources, forging partnerships, and facilitating knowledge sharing.

White, a former Disney consumer-products executive who had been with the company for over a decade, hasn’t been ousted during the downsizing, although what his next role will be remains unclear, according to the WSJ.

Disney layoffs, by the digits

50: Size of the next-generation storytelling and consumer experiences unit, all of whom lost their jobs.

7,000: Total layoffs Disney has planned over the next few months, accounting for 3.6% of its global workforce.

$5.5 billion: Estimated cost-saving from the layoffs

Quotable: Disney’s online and offline metaverse dreams

“(I)t’s going to take all the great things that we as a media company have with Disney+ and use that as a platform for the metaverse. But at the same time, we have something that no one else has, and that’s the physical world, a world of our parks. And so, if the metaverse is the blending of the physical and the digital in one environment, who can do it better than Disney?” -Former CEO Bob Chapek in April 2022

Person of interest: Bob Iger

In his personal capacity, Disney’s boomerang CEO Bob Iger—he was at Disney’s helm for 15 years until 2020 and then came back to replace his successor Chapek last year—is a firm believer in the metaverse.

In March 2022, eight months before returning to Disney, Iger invested in and joined the board of Genies, a nascent tech startup that allows users to create their own three-dimensional cartoon avatars for use on social media profiles and, eventually, in the metaverse. At the time, he said he’s “always been drawn to the intersection between technology and art.”

Iger hasn’t publicly commented on Disney’s dwindling faith in the metaverse.

Companies of interest: Meta, Microsoft

Disney isn’t the only company reconsidering its metaverse ambitions.

In October 2021, Facebook announced big metaverse dreams and even changed its name to Meta, ushering in an urgency to work on the concept. Microsoft joined the race soon after.

A year and a half later, the metaverse projects at Meta are burning cash and falling flat as CEO Mark Zuckerberg attempts to bring the focus back to the company’s core business—the family of apps, including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. Meta is by no means giving up on it but the metaverse is “not the majority” of what the company is up to, Zuckerberg said in December.

Meanwhile, the conversation at Microsoft has also shifted from the metaverse to all things artificial intelligence (AI). As part of its recent plan to cut 10,000 jobs, the Satya Nadella-led firm laid off its entire Mixed Reality Tool Kit team and members of the virtual reality workspace project AltspaceVR.

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