Tencent Cloud goes loud on metaverse, coy on ChatGPT plans

Chinese cloud vendor introduces "metaverse-in-a-box" offering as part of efforts to tap the region's growing demand for media services, but remains mum on any plans that may involve AI chatbots, such as ChatGPT.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Tencent Cloud is eager to tap Asia's growing demand for media services, offering up a product portfolio that includes newly launched "metaverse-in-a-box" to help businesses with their Web3 initiatives. The Chinese tech giant, however, remains coy on how generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT, will play a role in its overall vision. 

For now, it is openly bullish about market opportunities in media services, which it believes will grow 19-fold in Asia-Pacific between 2016 and 2026. It is the region with the most video-on-demand subscribers, said Poshu Yeung, Tencent Cloud International's senior vice president, during a media briefing in Singapore. 

Regional markets such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, will see significant growth opportunities in media services, driven by accelerated growth in Southeast Asia's data centre industry, Tencent said. 

The cloud vendor last year launched its media services business, touting it as a one-stop audio and video offering that spanned video-on-demand, live streaming, real-time communication, and instant messaging services, amongst others. Of the 400 media services it offers, 150 are available outside of China. 

Backed by a wider company ecosystem that has more than 20 years of experience in online games and media development, Tencent Cloud is able to tap this knowledge pool in its media services delivery, Yeung said. 

Also central to this is the company's "immersive convergence" strategy, which encompasses technologies including Web3 that help bring together the online and physical environments to offer seamless connectivity and user experience.

To drive Web3 development, for instance, Tencent on Wednesday launched "metaverse-in-a-box", which offers a suite of tools including SDKs and low-code applications to help businesses quickly develop metaverse services. These can be applied in games, media and entertainment, as well as traditional sectors, according to Tencent. 

Yeung said: "We see a future with Web3, a new iteration of the internet that ushers in the concept of 'immersive convergence' where the physical and digital economies meet and integrate. With more businesses now keen to explore and adapt to an efficient, transparent digital future, we are ready to leverage our technical experience in the fields of games, audio, and video to provide technical support for Web3, and work with industry partners to create a more immersive experience and nurture a better Web3 ecosystem." 

ZDNET asked where generative AI tools fit into this strategy and why ChatGPT was generating so much interest when AI chatbots, including those offered by Tencent, had been in the market for several years. 

US vendors including Microsoft and Google already have unveiled their ChatGPT alternatives, and their China counterparts such as Alibaba and Baidu reportedly are working on their own offerings. 

While Tencent was said to also be exploring similar plans, its executives were reluctant to share details or confirm a roadmap. 

When probed further, Yeung said the vendor had been tapping AI technologies and integrating these into its products for "years". Similarly, he noted that Tencent had been working on metaverse technologies--for instance, in its online games--before the term was formally established in the industry. 

Adding that generative AI was just another descriptive term that now was widely used, he said while there were no specific plans related to ChatGPT, the vendor would continue its work in the AI field and to explore new developments. 

Tencent was more willing to share its plans for Web3, which now will include the development of blockchain API (application programming interface) services, following a new partnership agreement with Web3 infrastructure provider Ankr. Deployed over Tencent's cloud infrastructure, these API services will provide a global decentralised network of RPC (remote procedure call) nodes that can power Web3 development projects.

Tencent on Wednesday also signed up three Web3 blockchain partners to help businesses with their Web3 deployment. The partners include Ava Labs, which provides smart contracts platform Avalanche that is touted to enable Web3 developers to build scalable, custom applications. An Avalanche node has been set up on Tencent Cloud. 

"We think the biggest breakthrough for Web3 is that it introduces more ownership and privilege for users," said Yimin Long, Tencent Cloud's general manager for media solutions. These will need to be facilitated with smart contracts, he added. 

Further development in Web3 will lead to more diverse applications, such as the development of chatbots and group management for chat services, Long said.

Pointing to the metaverse, he said Tencent's experience in online games and communication services spanning text, audio, video, and 3D, will be a competitive advantage. 


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