Bitmojis are getting an upgrade on Snapchat with a new 3-D design that rolls out Monday.
Snap Inc. is decking out its avatars with more than 1,200 combinations of poses, gestures and backgrounds like cow prints and beach locations. The new avatars are full-body designs with new "Pixar"-like quality that can be shared on and off the platform.
It comes the same day Snap confirmed that it acquired Culver City-based Vertebrae. The AR and 3-D platform helps brands and retailers translate their clothes and accessories digitally. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. But both moves illustrate Snap Inc.'s intentions to move further into virtual fashion.
The new avatars show much more detail from stitching on outfits to the sparkle of jewelry. That level of detail could help entice brands. Already, users are able to buy some of the clothes featured on Bitmoji. With the addition of accessories, there is the potential for more revenue sources.
Snap has used Bitmoji, which it acquired from Bitstrips in 2016, as an entry into gaming, merchandise and other areas. The company has used the avatars to partner with fashion brands from Levis to Ralph Lauren. Last year, Snap made a big push into gaming with Bitmoji Paint, a game that lets users collaboratively paint a pixelated canvas. The company also announced last year it was creating Bitmoji TV.
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Genies, a startup that makes virtual avatars out of musicians, celebrities and, very soon, everyone else, is moving from Venice to a 20,000-square-foot converted warehouse in Marina Del Rey.
The move comes on the heels of Genies' $65 million Series B fundraise. The new space is five times the size of the startup's former office; it includes a recording studio, screening room, 25-foot ceilings and enough space to double the company's current employee count of about 60.
It's both a necessary step to accommodate the company's aggressive hiring plans and a bet on L.A.
"Genies' commitment to Los Angeles further demonstrates the unique offering only this city has," said Raise Commercial Real Estate's Mac Burridge, who represented Genies on the deal. "The confluence of entertainment and technology has never been more prevalent and companies like Genies are the reason for L.A.'s quick recovery."
It's go-time for Genies following the fundraise that brought tech veteran Mary Meeker onto its board. The company also recently brought on a new head of talent to lead the ongoing buildout of its executive team.
Genies joins a host of startups that already call Marina Del Rey home. Dollar Shave Club, System1, ZEFR, The Bouqs, Whatnot and Survios all reside in the unincorporated coastal community nestled between Venice and Playa Del Rey.
"Silicon Beach I don't even think is a fair way to describe Los Angeles tech anymore," said Burridge. "I think Los Angeles is a tech hub, whether your office is in the Valley, Downtown or in the South Bay and everything in between."
The deal is part of what Burridge describes as a "tidal wave of demand" for office space in Los Angeles coming out of the pandemic.
"Momentum hasn't, I don't think, ever been as hot as it is right now," he said. "There's never really been 12 full months of pent-up demand that's hit the market all at once, and that's what's happening right now."
Genies will follow a hybrid in-person and work-from-home policy beginning in September, said chief operating officer Jake Adams. Its staffing plans will focus on hiring engineers and designers.
What's the Value of an Avatar?
Genies has established itself by partnering with and building virtual avatars for celebrities including Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Russell Westbrook. The company says it controls "99% ownership of the celebrity avatar market." Last week, hip-hop trio Migos became the latest to render themselves into avatars with the company. Genies has also partnered with Warner Music Group to bring its avatar technology to the label's expansive roster.
Sporting a digital avatar can help celebrities advertise their milestones and ventures through an expanded online presence. It also offers potential for profiting from the so-called metaverse – the growing confluence of virtual worlds, social interactivity and commerce – by selling digital wearables and collectibles.
As for Genies, Adams, the COO, said the purpose of building avatars for celebrities is to encourage fans to adopt avatars of their own.
"That really shows users firsthand the potential of an avatar and how it can augment their digital and social experiences," he said.
Genies plans to launch a consumer app in the fall, where users can create their own avatars. Adams is working to craft partnerships that will enable those characters to travel across the digital universe. One established partnership is with GIPHY, which allows users to create GIFs that are shareable across numerous platforms.
Adams said Genies is currently testing its consumer-facing app with a small cohort. It plans to launch the app widely in conjunction with the digital goods marketplace that it is building with Dapper Labs, the blockchain company behind NBA Top Shot.
Genies does not share revenue or profitability figures but sources say the key challenge facing the company is whether they can become financially sustainable.
The marketplace is key to those plans. Genies will use it to create, market and sell digital goods, including NFTs, sometimes in collaboration with a brand or celebrity, for example to accompany an album release.
"When you think about our avatar itself, it really needs to sit in that flywheel where a user can buy something in our marketplace, they can adorn it on their Genie and then use it across their various digital experiences," Adams said.
Raising $65 million unlocks opportunities like investing in a new office and hiring a team to realize that vision. But it also comes with newfound pressure.
"The stakes definitely get pushed up," Adams said. "We have the resources to execute and now it's really just on us to make it happen."
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Once the home of Frank Sinatra's vinyl recordings, Warner Music Group has ventured into the virtual entertainment world. The company announced it will partner with a virtual concert provider and invest in a tech company that plans to develop avatars and create NFTs for the label's artists.
Monday's announcement that Warner will enter into a content and investment partnership with Los Angeles-based Wave followed a similar announcement Friday that the venerable music label will partner with Genies, a tech company that will help develop a virtual presence for Warner artists and NFTs for their artwork and music.
"The commercial opportunity in the metaverse has exploded in the last several years, with the past few months seeing a tipping point for mainstream adoption of immersive social experiences and virtual communities," Oana Ruxandra, EVP, business development and chief digital officer at WMG, said in a news release.
Wave, a virtual concerts platform, uses its technology to transform artists into digital avatars through which they can perform livestreamed concerts for fans. It has recently released performances from artists such as The Weeknd and John Legend.
"Wave is indisputably a leader in the interactive virtual entertainment space and the right partner to help us grow WMG's efforts," Ruxandra added. "Our artists and their fans will be getting best-in-class experiences, as we pioneer new forms of consumption and monetization."
The agreement will allow Warner to develop virtual performances, experiences and monetization opportunities for its line-up of artists across its labels, including "new forms of ticketing, sponsorship and in-show interactions for fans," the company said.
In the past few months, Warner has announced it has invested in social gaming platform Roblox and experimental virtual artist record label Spirit Bomb, "enabling artists to power their creative visions and engage fans in new ways," the company said.
Warner did not release financial details of its investment in Wave.
In addition to the digital avatars for live performances, Wave offers live chats, virtual gifting and voting, as well as real-time audience appearances during artists' performances.
"WMG has an incredible history of being a trailblazer in the music industry. They share our vision for pulling the future forward using new technologies that benefit artists and fans alike," said Adam Arrigo, CEO and co-founder of Wave. "We're excited to partner with them to create interactive events that are unlike any other virtual concerts ever experienced."
The deal with Warner is one of Wave's biggest partnerships to date. It has also teamed up with Tencent Music Entertainment as well as investment from Justin Bieber, J. Balvin, The Weeknd, Scooter Braun, Top Dawg Entertainment, Maveron and Griffing Gaming.
Wave has so far hosted more than 50 events for popstars, DJs and artists.
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