Deeptech/News/

Metaverse startup Condense raises $4.5m seed to bring sports and music livestreaming into the gaming world

LocalGlobe, Tom Blomfield and a mysteriously unnamed former England footballer have all backed Condense’s promise of “Video 3.0”

By Amy O'Brien

It’s been a long hard couple of years for those of us that enjoy the energy of live music and sports. But when the pandemic stole from us the joy of sharing sweat with strangers in crowded arenas, the tech illuminati gave us an answer: the metaverse.

Cue a wave of startups promising the next best thing to real life. Like …spend $4.3m on some virtual land that doesn’t exist yet or customise a Sims-like avatar to use across VR spaces.

All that time, Bristol-based metaverse startup Condense was quietly building the deeptech infrastructure to allow you to attend the live gigs Covid put a stop to… but from the comfort of the computer desk you were already chained to 18 hours of the day.  Live events are now back, but the metaverse isn’t going anywhere.

Condense has just raised a $4.5m seed round for what it calls its “Video 3.0” invention for streaming live music and sports on gaming platforms — which CEO and co-founder Nick Fellingham promises is going to “fundamentally change how we engage with each other.”

For something that’s in its nascent stage, that’s a big promise.

What does Condense do?

So far, the metaverse’s worst growing pain has been how to actually manage the underlying tech. How do you create the code so that when you wander around and interact with someone else’s avatar — by, say, shaking their hand —  the other avatar knows its hand is being shaken? 

This is the kind of infrastructure that the metaverse will need if it’s going to feel less empty and 2D. 

Condense calls itself a metaverse infrastructure startup because it’s tackling this pain point. It’s built end-to-end capture and streaming technology so that you can stream live, real-world events like music and sports within metaverse games, mobile apps and platforms that are created with game engines Unity or Unreal Engine. And you don’t need a VR headset to do so. 

That’s thanks to a deeptech cocktail of computer vision and machine learning, with a side of “proprietary streaming infrastructure” that it’s set up in a real-life studio in Bristol — where artists can record their live performances. 

This is best explained by watching the below video of Bristol-based vocalist and producer Grove having a bang on Condense’s live recording equipment, and the crowd of faceless avatars that seem to be enjoying (?) the performance in the metaverse. 

As seems to be the case across metaverse startups right now, Condense is starting small — with intimate gigs like this where its infrastructure can handle the small crowd and one single music performer. But it has plans to develop its tech to handle live boxing events by the end of 2022. 

It makes money from charging a licence for its streaming software, but the bulk of its revenue comes from streaming. Condense’s customers are application developers, broadcasters, studios, agencies, labels, brands and sports licence holders — which it charges an initial set-up fee, and then a fee for each minute streamed, per end viewer.

Who’s backing Condense?

  • London-based VC firm LocalGlobe, which led the round
  • London-based VC firm 7percent Ventures  
  • UK-based VC firm Deeptech Labs
  • A mystery “platinum-selling grime artist” whose name cannot yet be shared
  • A “former England footballer and sports presenter” who also remains a mystery
  • Tom Blomfield, the founder and former CEO of Monzo
  • Grace Ladoja, music manager
  • Ian Hogarth, CEO of Songkick 

What’s next for Condense?

  • The live events that Condense can currently stream are limited, which its cofounders tell Sifted is down to the limited size of its capture area.
  • But by the end of the year, they’re planning on live broadcasting boxing as the company’s tech quality improves. And then? “We aim to be able to capture a tennis court size by summer 2023 and we won’t be stopping there,” Fellingham tells Sifted. 
  • Condense is planning on opening a London events recording studio soon, and then after that it plans to move into other cities across Europe, and its big target market the US. Its cofounders tell Sifted they’re “location agnostic and have built from the outset for massive scale.” 
  • It’s also hiring — but the cofounders won’t disclose numbers, saying they’re gunning for “quality over quantity.” Condense currently has five computer vision PhDs in its team.
That future boxing match might look a little like this …

What’s the market like?

Travis Scott’s metaverse performance on gaming platform Fortnite, or Lil Nas X’s performance on Roblox attracted millions of fans. But current infrastructure means these types of events are yet to be streamed live.

“The ‘events’ happen in real-time on the platform but the performances are not live. What if these events could be truly live, photorealistic, with fans able to interact with the artist in real-time? That’s what Condense enables,” Fellingham tells Sifted.

Sifted’s take? 

As with most metaverse projects, Condense is a pretty controversial idea that divides people into two camps. Some may be perplexed by the idea of logging into a gaming platform to watch an avatar version of their favourite artist instead of a) just typing them into Youtube, or b) buying a ticket to actually experience their performance live.

But 12m people “attended” that Travis Scott Fortnite performance. So there’s evidently a large second group of people out there that are hungry to see their favourite real-life events in the virtual world. And it also holds the potential to increase accessibility for people who might struggle to attend some live venues, or who may struggle to afford a ticket to an in-real-life event.

Condense was founded in 2019 and it’s only just opened its first studio, and it can only stream a small live performance so far. In other words, this tech is difficult, clunky and slow to build. If it somehow manages to accelerate its development so that football stadium-sized sports events can be streamed, that will mean big bucks for them as well as event sponsors. But as with all things metaverse, we can’t help but think that seems a long way off.  

Amy O’Brien is a reporter at Sifted. She tweets from @Amy_EOBrien and writes our fintech newsletter — you can sign up here. 

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