Gone are the chief metaverse officers. There is AI

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Companies have retreated from the once-hot digital sector, leaving metaverse leaders confused. Yes, there is artificial intelligence.

Advertising giant Publicis Group SA has hired an unusual executive in mid-2022 — a lion-headed digital avatar named Leon who will act as “Chief Metaverse Officer” guiding clients through the virtual realm that has caught the attention of the real world.

His moment in the spotlight didn't last long.

Five months later, ChatGPT launched and the buzz that had surrounded the Metaverse since Mark Zuckerberg rebranded Facebook as Meta Platforms Inc. shifted to artificial intelligence. Lyon and other, human officials focused on the metaverse — an immersive digital reality where people can interact with each other — is quickly becoming an endangered species.

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Walt Disney Co., Procter & Gamble Co. And executives leading Metaverse's efforts at Creative Artists Agency have left. Leon's LinkedIn profile (yes, he had one), no longer exists, and there is no mention of him on the company's website except for his introductory press release. Publicis Groupe declined to comment on the record.

Instead, businesses are scrambling to hire AI leaders, with recent hires by Accenture and GE Healthcare. Some Metaverse executives have reinvented themselves as AI experts, deftly moving from one hot technology to another. Compensation packages average more than $1 million, according to a survey from executive-search and leadership consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles. Last week Publicis said it would invest 300 million euros ($327 million) over the next three years in artificial intelligence technology and talent.

“It's been a long time since I started a conversation with a client about the metaverse,” says Fawad Bajwa, global AI practice leader at executive search and advisory firm Russell Reynolds Associates. “The metaverse may still be there, but it's a lonely place.”

C-suite reorganization illustrates the fickle nature of technology trends — and the difficulty corporations face in separating hype from reality.

Many companies have moved away from Metaverse. The word was uttered just twice on earnings calls at S&P 500 businesses last quarter, compared with 63 times in the first quarter of 2022, according to Bloomberg Transcript data. According to Russell Reynolds, that year, eight out of ten CEOs said they either had dedicated talent specializing in the space or were expanding their leadership teams' responsibilities to cover it. By 2030 McKinsey & Co. All are chasing a global business opportunity that is optimistically estimated to be worth $5 trillion for consultants.

Apple calling its new mixed-reality headset Vision Pro a “spatial computing” device, without any meta-references, is another sign that “the focus has definitely changed,” said Nada Usina, chief executive officer and co. -Founder of NU Advisory Partners, an executive search and advisory firm focused on boards and the C-suite. Microsoft Corp. It overtook Apple as the world's most valuable public company this month, thanks to investor enthusiasm for its aggressive investment in AI. Even Meta's Zuckerberg — who once declared the metaverse to be “the next frontier” — has turned his attention to generative AI after spending billions on metaverse initiatives that yielded little fruit.

Some meta-mavens have left to seek pastures new or rehabilitate their roles. Joanna Popper, CAA's chief metaverse officer, left the talent agency after just a year to work as a “board observer” at Metaphysic.ai, an entertainment-focused AI startup that partnered with CAA. (Popper did not respond to a request for comment.) Prateek Thacker, who led Coca-Cola's Metaverse efforts in 2021 with its interactive “Real Magic” marketing campaign, is now global head of productive AI for the beverage giant.

But not every metaverse guru can follow this. The skill sets of artificial intelligence leaders are “very different,” Bajwa said. “You don't want to rebuild somebody. You won't get the deep expertise you want.

At least one Metaverse executive has fallen victim to a corporate coup. Disney's Michael White left after Bob Iger returned to run the Mouse House and eliminated White's Metaverse department in a sweeping overhaul. He is now chief product officer at self-driving car business Zoox, which is owned by Amazon.com Inc. In general, palace intrigues are few: P&G's Iona Matti quietly left the Pampers maker last summer and is now running innovation at the World Agriculture Organization. White did not respond to Bloomberg's interview requests, and Matey declined to comment.

A handful of Metaverse chiefs remain, including Yaiza Rubio at Spanish telecom Telefonica and Nelly Mensah at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE. But their expertise extends to many emerging technologies, such as the digital ledger blockchain. And even companies looking to explore the uses of Metaverse can now choose a consultant, says Alison Robinson with Hedrick & Struggles. “There's still an interest in engaging with consumers at Metaverse, but not as a C-suite hire,” said Robinson, the executive search firm's global sector leader for consumer, technology, entertainment and media.

Jeff Wang, global chief innovation officer at professional services giant Ernst & Young LLP, said his department has cut its Metaverse investment in half over the past year or so. “Some people make a joke out of it, like it's done and dusted,” though he's not one of them. “There's a ton of promise that the metaverse can deliver,” Wang said.

In contrast, EY now has two senior executives leading its global AI program, which ensures artificial intelligence is woven into every aspect of the business, he said. “This is a big deal for us,” Wang said.

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