Meta, which renewed its identity from Facebook last October, will continue to work on building access to the proposed metaverse through devices that enable a more immersive version of the internet, Ajit Mohan, Vice President and Managing Director, India, Meta told Aashish Aryan and Pranav Mukul in an interview. He also spoke about the future of internet advertising in the metaverse and the company’s plans in the upcoming auction of broadcasting rights for the Indian Premier League. Edited excerpts:
Given that political ads comprise a small proportion of your revenue and the heat that they bring through allegations of the platform being biased, how does the cost-benefit work out?
I don’t have a point of view on this, really. This is, globally, one of the calls that we took a while back. In the context of the role that we can play — just as businesses connect to consumers, we have discovered that our platforms are used to drive causes. We saw that one of the roles we played in the pandemic was to bring attention to the public health agenda. The code of the platform is that you can build communities and get a message across, and therefore I can imagine the utility from a campaign point of view as well. When you look at political ads as a percentage of total (revenues) both in India and globally, it becomes pretty apparent that the driver for us is not revenue.
Companies across the world have stepped up their investments in metaverse. How does the future of advertising on internet change on Web 3.0 and the metaverse?
In a very short period of time, from when we articulated the idea of metaverse and the change of identity to Meta, there has been massive excitement from across industry and business leaders across the spectrum, and I’ve seen this excitement in India as well. Leaders instinctively get the power of a more immersive internet, and what it means to move from 2D to 3D (two-dimension to three dimension), not just from a consumer point of view — with use cases such fitness and gaming — but also from enterprise perspective, if they can engage with these users in a more immersive manner. We have been pretty open in saying that we do not know all the answers at the moment. Going back to the acquisition of Oculus in 2014, the company has been making hefty investments in AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) for a while now. We have no illusion that we are building the metaverse. We know that we are going to contribute to what will become metaverse and that different companies will create different spaces. It should be interoperable, a lot more than what mobile internet was. At the same time we do not have any illusion that we have cracked all of it, either in terms of technology or how interoperability will work, or even what the different revenue streams will be. What we do know is that there is going to be a lot of work on access side on devices that enable more immersive version of the internet.
Governments and regulators across the world are debating on formulating policies for cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens, and the metaverse? How important is it for these policies to be laid down as early as possible?
On the last version of the internet, a lot of these laws and policies had to be developed post-facto. We saw this explosive growth and innovation which had a huge impact on global economy as well as the impact on the ability of people to connect in a seamless manner. But we also discovered that there were a lot of bad actors who could do great harm. Even in some of our own works — we have had a lot of fundamental product work and policy changes over the last few years on the back of recognising that. We have the opportunity to learn from that as we think about how to design the different building blocks that will form the metaverse over the next 5-10 years. For example, we have been baking in privacy as a core design principle in to every product feature and it will translate quite well. We have to proactively work with stakeholders, including regulators around the world to make sure that we build these frameworks in a way that allows innovation but absorbs the learnings of the last 20 years.
Is Facebook involved in those conversations as far as the policy making in India on these aspects in concerned?
Given the nature of the company, we are. When you look into how much we are leaning into build Web 3.0 and metaverse, a technology which is fundamentally different, we obviously engage with anyone who wants to hear our point of view. We have found stakeholders including governments being open to discussions in private where they are open to objective discussion on different point of view. That will continue to be the case in Web 3.0 as well.
As a big media company, so to say, would Meta be interested in buying rights to broadcast IPL?
One, I don’t think we’re a media company. I think we partner with other media company, and hopefully they’ve seen value in leveraging our platforms. We ourselves don’t see us as a media company. I don’t think we will build particular use cases. We are thinking more along the lines that we can build frameworks and help with foundational tools on both the software and hardware side that will enable other developers to build compelling use cases for the metaverse. The role that Meta has is fundamentally around the building the toolkits, enabling other partners and developers, and therefore in this context, we don’t have the intention to bid for IPL rights that are opening up in the next few weeks. It is the context of the role we see ourselves in, of building the metaverse, and not because we think IPL is not a fantastic property. I have seen the power of IPL in building Hotstar.
In terms of the Apple privacy changes, globally, there’s a $10 billion impact that Meta has said it will see as a result of the new policy. For India, could you provide any qualitative or quantitative insights into what impact is being witnessed by Meta?
There are no numbers to share. What we’ve publicly announced over the last few weeks, and what’s to come, we’ve clearly worked to make sure that some of the underreporting on web conversions that have come on the back of the Apple changes are addressed. That will continue. The only other thing to call out is that Apple or iOS is a very small share of the total devices in India.
As far as the Metaverse is concerned, are there products that you see changing the shape of Web 3.0? Have you invested in any of these?
It really is an open canvas. I believe that the timing of this is quite important. When the last version of the internet came up, we were at a very different stage as a country. Not many people had come online and the developer ecosystem was very early. This confidence that has now come in on the back of the massive entrepreneurial energy that has been unleashed in the last few years, aided by international capital.
As a country, we now have the opportunity to shape the global metaverse. I do not think it is now about picking only a couple of categories. As a country, the opportunity is so big, we could not be in a better position to create a value for ourselves and the world.
Some of the companies have started building use cases. Are they pioneers in this unknown field of metaverse or are they leaping before looking?
I do not have a view on a particular company or a particular use case. We are trying to articulate our vision of what we are trying to build, the enabling agenda on the hardware or the software side and pointing to the opportunity to build it in a patient, intentional manner over the long term.