When it comes to the early adoption and lasting impact of new technologies for linear television, the record is spotty at best. Despite feverish pronouncements about 3D and VR being “the future of television,” and sizable investments from major players, neither development proved to move the needle significantly for the medium. (To be fair, there are those who say the jury is still out regarding VR).
The latest acronym to create a stir for content creators and distributors in the TV business and beyond is NFT (non-fungible token). Effectively a digital collectible but also potentially much more, the NFT is one of the first notable markers in the evolution from Web2 — where the primary functions have been reading, writing and communicating — to Web3, which adds ownership to the mix.
That’s part of the message delivered by Scott Greenberg, CEO of Fox-funded Blockchain Creative Labs, and multiplatform content producer Danielle Lauren during a session at MIPTV in Cannes on Tuesday (April 4), which tackled the question: “What place do NFTs have in TV?” Judging from the well-attended discussion, the answer appears to be one of complementing and community-building for linear TV properties, while also promising potential disruption for distribution and IP ownership models.
In June of last year, Fox unveiled its entry into the NFT sweepstakes via the formation of Blockchain Creative Labs, established out of a partnership with Greenberg’s Bento Box Entertainment. The new division came out of the gate with US$100 million in seed funding. Since then, the unit has delivered the “MaskVerse,” billed by Fox as the official NFT marketplace and community for The Masked Singer (pictured); and, in time for SXSW, created a similar experience for Dolly Parton to hype her first novel and its companion album, Run, Rose, Run.
It’s therefore understandable that Greenberg would be an NFT evangelist, but during the MIPTV discussion he balanced the palpable optimism he has for the technology with a measured look at what it’s currently being used for, and where it can go. Citing the example of how American Idol helped usher texting into the mainstream for its audience, he said entertainment properties will have a similar impact on the adoption of NFTs for audiences, while creators should be more interested in how the tech can put them back in the driver’s seat when it comes to IP exploitation.
While he said he believes the digital collectible market is “a bubble” and “overvalued,” Greenberg maintained that NFTs tied to programming with “sticky audiences” (such as The Masked Singer) provide an innovative approach to both building fan communities and extending the brand beyond broadcast. And, for a content creator, the ability to store rights information and royalty tracking within the chain should also be extremely attractive.
“You’re not going to be dealing with the studio accountants,” he said. “Everything is open and verifiable.
“In Web2, everything is free in exchange for our data,” he added. “In Web3, we get our data back.”
As a producer, Lauren echoed the importance of that aspect, comparing the trading of NFTs to the “old-world” method of art dealing. If Damien Hirst, for example, sold a painting for $1 million, and then the buyer eventually resold it for $5 million, Hirst wouldn’t partake in the profits. But for content creators, the potential exists for an NFT to be the gift that keeps on giving.
Still, it takes work and effective strategy to not only create content worth trading and sharing, but to build and maintain the communities around the work, and the broadcast properties it might be connected with.
“I think of an NFT as a digital key, and you can use it to unlock things… it starts to be about being relationships and communities,” offered Lauren. “People are meeting in the real world because they have this shared interest in whatever this property is.
“The community expects a long-term investment because they’re investing in you,” she added. “You can’t put something up for a season. This is the first time when audiences are really empowered.”