Of all the half-baked NFT use cases, perhaps none is at greater risk of salmonella contamination than NFT TV. Unlike art, music, or tickets to a Lil Baby show attended exclusively by sweaty men with limited money management skills, TV shows and NFTs are not a 1:1 match. The opportunity cost of producing an entire teleplay for a single sale is far higher than, say, algorithmically generating 10,000 variations on the same character model and shilling them off for 1eth a pop.
Not to mention, OpenSea caps upload size at 100MB, and most HD episode length video files are pushing 1GB at least. Not like anyone could accuse the examples we’re about to discuss of being high definition, but still. The point stands. No one wants or is able to buy or sell full length video files as NFTs. And yet, if NFTs represent a revolution in storytelling, as we’re told to believe, they must extend to the most widely consumed medium for storytelling of this century. Surely?
Well, there is clearly a market for web3 related content of all forms. And there are, indeed, more than a few filmmakers of varying degrees of fame attempting to tap into it. But, given the limits of the technology, they are forced to get more creative than the old reliable pitch of: ‘What if _____, but it’s an NFT?’ And, as I had the utter displeasure of finding out today, oh boy, do they.
A couple months back, we reviewed what seemed at the time to be the top contender for the long-awaited title of ‘Netflix, but NFTs’. Shibuya.xyz had sleek branding, arresting artwork, an incredibly overqualified design team, and… well, sure, only 48 seconds of actual content to show for it. But it’s the thought that counts, right? To date, at least, this seems to be the predominant mindset in web3 TV.
There are all sorts of theoretical ways in which NFT technology could change the video content landscape. Producers could crowdfund unlikely projects. Investors could make fractionalized returns on character appearances and story arcs. Audiences could influence the story. Writers could, y’know, actually get paid for their work. (Cough cough.) These theoretical market opportunities and many more are a dime a dozen on Crypto Twitter, so, naturally, entire production teams have sprung up to address them.
But are they actually executing on these interesting use cases? Or simply paying lip service to them without the viable content to back it up? We got our browser histories dirty to find out. Here are the 5 predominant types of crypto TV and everything wrong with them.
1.) Give Yourself Goosebumps
The most obvious mechanism for integrating NFTs into video content is the model pioneered by Shibuya, or, perhaps more accurately, R.L. Stine. Holders of NFTs associated with the show are granted the privilege to give ‘creative input’ on each episode, which roughly translates to ‘vote on one of two ways to resolve the cliffhanger in a binary Twitter poll.’
In the case of Shibuya’s pilot series White Rabbit, each episode ends on the nameless protagonist facing a literal fork in the road, requiring purchase of a Producer Pass NFT to vote on which one she takes. The latest costs 0.069eth, or ~$125, and you need to purchase a new one for every ending you wish to vote on.
Meanwhile, the episodes, while genuinely gorgeously rendered, are laughably devoid of all else. Chapter 1 ran under a minute, with the only plotting to speak of delivered in a title card. And the second, which dropped today after a two month wait, is barely twice that. To be fair, the show is produced by a small indie team, so a longer turnaround time is to be expected. Content-wise, however, I can only be so charitable. If a couple minutes of top tier anime footage of a woman running is your thing, it delivers in spades. But there’s so little in terms of story that any so-called creative input would be entirely negligible. In fact, I could easily imagine a world where they have the same animation prepared for whichever outcome the audience votes in. With so little to go off, who would even know the difference?
For a larger profile example, The Gimmicks, produced by Mila Kunis and starring a slew of professional wrestlers, lets NFT holders influence storylines by chiming in on pressing questions like, ‘Who threw the first dick punch?’ On the bright side, it’s based on the eco-friendly-ish Solana blockchain and the first 10,000 community pass style NFTs were minted for free, so it feels like more of a play to expand crypto adoption and attract a genuine viewership than a Shibuya-style price gouging.
Its mint sold out and it’s run for 11 episodes, so it has, it would appear, achieved at least a modicum of popularity. And — unlike Stoner Cats, Kunis’s first foray into NFT TV — you don’t have to own an NFT to watch it. You can stream all episodes here for free. But don’t get your hopes up. Just because it’s not awful in concept doesn’t mean it’s not awful in execution.
2.) Crowdsourced Creativity
This is a concept El Prof spitballed to me while brainstorming for this article, and probably my favorite in theory. As a career writer myself, I’ve always found there to be a near impenetrable mystique surrounding writer’s rooms. Back in the day, writing an episode of Bojack Horseman for little pay and less credit would’ve absolutely been #goals. But getting a foot in the door without moving to Hollywoo felt pretty much undoable. The idea of getting to see my words on screen simply by shelling out for an overpriced JPG is pure hopium for introverted mediocre white guys like me.
Well, per usual, we were beaten to the punch. Specifically, by the minds behind The Glue Factory Show, who you may or may not know as ‘that guy from that one episode of Parks and Rec‘ or ‘that guy from that one episode of Veep‘, respectively. Aside from driving a not-insignificant amount of donations to equine rescue charities, the short comedy web series is most notable for its Community Creators’ Room. They host weekly writing challenges for their Discord members, allowing them to take part in writing workshops, contribute to worldbuilding, and see the characters they’ve created and voiced featured in bonus episodes. (Just so long as they’ve purchased the NFTs, obviously.)
Unfortunately, the world they’re building is, well, horseshit. Usually, I wouldn’t jump to such an extreme conclusion after the first episode. I’m a Parks and Rec Season 1 apologist, after all. But the entire 10 minute pilot happens to be a literal laundry list of the rules of the world. The ‘Rules of the Dimension’ — a parallel reality dominated by abused horses in which the show takes place — include such inspiring creative choices as: ‘The water tastes exactly like piss’. (To which one character replies, ‘Piss, as in like pee pee?’) And the episode’s reoccurring punchline hinges entirely on whether or not you think it’s hilarious that horses would enjoy watching TV.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. When the only letters your writer’s room knows are G and M (fine, maybe throw a stray N or I in there, too) your potential for high quality’s got a pretty low ceiling.
3.) Oh, The Irony
Mad Realities — a production studio billing itself as the MTV of web3, which recently netted $6M in seed funding — takes a similar approach to these other series. It sells Discord memberships as NFTs. It offers some interactive capability to hodlers. It’s ‘reimagining entertainment for the modern world’ or [insert other jargon-heavy VC wet dream]. The difference? Their first series, a 5-episode dating show called Proof of Love, is actually fucking funny.
It helps that, unlike these other ‘comedies’, it doesn’t take itself — or, importantly, its web3 elements — even vaguely seriously. Sure, they shill 1/1 NFTs at the end of each episode, allowing the buyer to send anyone of their choosing into the next round. But the NFTs themselves are holographic gifs of suggestive emojis. And they, along with the audience participation and pretty much everything else about this show, are treated with irreverence if not straight up ridicule by the production team.
This is a show with a host who deadpans ‘fucking simp’ to the camera during displays of affection. After a contestant claims he helps people achieve ‘anywhere between three figures to eight figures’ a month through his job as a ‘Crypto Influencer’, the editors helpfully drop ‘$100 – $99,999,999’ into the lower third. And they offer each winning contestant a choice: take the bachelor/ette on the date they just earned, or ‘rug’ them and walk away with a handful of ETH, in a cliche but well-branded twist which nevertheless results in the best episode of the season.
Despite their degen bonafides (the founders were involved in the Constitution DAO and NFT Now) the Mad Realities team seems to intuit the correct play when it comes to creating web3 video content. Instead of pandering with gratuitous Shiba jokes and Elon Musk references, find the crossover appeal. An article in Input covering the season’s live finale notes that most of the audience at their consistently-sold-out Webster Hall aftershows were just there ‘for the vibes’, with one guest unable to describe what an NFT even is. Outside of the Crypto Twitter echo chamber, there’s so much skepticism and scorn directed at web3. It helps to play into it. A little self-awareness goes a long way, apparently.
4.) You Can Take It With You
I’ve spent a great deal of time lately reading about the illusion of self, how the fallacy of owning something and building an identity based on it is a one-way ticket to the bardos. Clearly, degens haven’t read much Eckhart Tolle, though, because the entire concept of web3 is built around the idea that anything on the internet can be owned. And, even if you don’t buy the new age woo wah that no one can truly own a thing or place or person, most of us agree that buying an image anyone can right-click-save doesn’t quite equate ownership.
While the metaphysical question of ownership is pretty tough to work around, some NFT collections at the very least take the legal steps to remedy this. Bored Ape Yacht Club notably offers owners the exclusive IP rights to each profile picture they hodl. BAYC has been too dumb (and/or smart enough not) to leverage the immense interest in their brand into a cohesive media property, so the dream of an adult animated cartoon where you can own individual characters hasn’t been realized yet… at least, not by Yuga Labs. But more on that in a moment, because some IP shills have taken a crack at this strategy. Predictably, it’s a mixed bag.
DeadHeads NFT are a collection of 3D animated Big Lots Funko Pops with a fairly long running and widely viewed webseries relative to the other shows we’ve reviewed so far. It’s actually pretty well animated and surprisingly moody. A bit of a relief, because, as it turns out, below average drama is a lot more watchable than below average comedy. The main draw, though, is the IP play: ‘ALL Characters [sic] are owned with the rights belonging to the holders, creators and contributors’.
In theory, this could get NFT owners tangibly invested in promoting the show, with bigger paydays for breakout characters and all the other financial benefits of an internet where everything can be paid for or owned. In practice, though, it leads to a somewhat contrived and tonally jarring project where the main character’s animation model changes every episode. A nice proletarian touch, but it pretty much cancels out everything valuable about this strategy.
Or, in the immortal words of Incredi-boy:
5.) Lowest Common Denomination
As mentioned above, Yuga Labs, the company behind the inescapable Bored Apes, has yet to release a video series of its own, or really any other centralized media property to speak of. It makes sense, considering they’re probably making a small fortunate daily on secondary market royalties alone. Why mess with what’s working? Which, ironically, highlights the problem at the core of the IP play, and the current basic strategy behind NFTs in general.
The reason to bet on a collection like BAYC, Azuki, Cool Cats, or any of the other many thousand PFP offerings out there is that, if it one day becomes a viable intellectual property, you will own a portion of it, and stand to benefit in clout, bragging rights, or cash money. The problem is, the incentives don’t exist for the companies behind collections to follow through on this inherent promise. Even the lucky few that do hit it big will have already made their money on the mint. They’ll want to turn it into more money, sure, but there’s far easier ways to do so than finishing what they started, especially when the success of an IP depends on genuine creativity and cultural factors that can be impossible to manufacture or predict. Instead, they tend to leverage their success into launching and pumping other projects (see: Otherdeeds) which creates a chain of ‘investments’ with little yield for anyone other than the founding team.
A less obvious, but perhaps as significant factor is the difficulty of creating a brand when 10,000 people have a hand in defining it. A great brand requires cohesion, unity. Meanwhile, by virtue of handing out IP rights to whoever’s able to buy them, you invite in random elements and run the risk of devaluing anything you do build. Take, for example, the final show we’re featuring today.
The Red Ape Family is an adult animated cartoon starring a single Bored Ape owned by the producer. Despite staying fairly true to the stylistic and tonal tendencies of the collection (plenty of Musk references here) the show has no apparent connection to Yuga Labs. But it does have a huge YouTube viewership — 1M on the pilot alone — implying that the creator is profiting quite a bit off this thing, as they are well within their rights to do. It just so happens to also be incomprehensibly plotted, painfully unfunny, and possibly the most blatantly racist popular cartoon since Pacific Heat. (If you know, you know.)
The production team behind TRAF appears to be primarily international and pretty diverse, so I’d like to chalk it up to cultural differences. But when every character except the main one is voiced with a shitty caricature of a different marginalized ethnicity, with the most unflattering prejudices saved for the money-grubbing bad guys, it’s impossible to overlook. Anyone with stake in the brand can churn out trash like this and land a large audience (not to mention payday) perfectly legally. So why even try to build something with staying power? Rugpulls start to make a lot more sense when you see these things through to the logical conclusion. A few more shows like this, with an inedible fast food pop-up thrown in there for good measure, and eventually it might make more sense for Yuga to cut ties with BAYC entirely.
(Then again, it is Yuga Labs we’re talking about.)
Look. I get it. Money is a strong motivator, rich assholes have been able to invest in art since forever, and it’s fun to imagine a character you have a vested interest in penetrating the cultural zeitgeist. And, to be honest, there is some fun to be had here, even for huge buzzkills like me. When some Bored Apes pop up in a DeadHeads episode — presumably because one of the contributors owned a couple as well and thought, why not? — it’s got the feel of an old, inexplicable Hanna Barbera crossover. Like, hell yeah, let me watch Scooby Doo and Batman hunt Dracula, even though there’s nothing to the narrative aside from the elevator pitch and whatever plot there is will leave my mind the moment the credits roll. It perfectly encapsulates a moment in time, even if said moment is one I’ll look back on with cringe and mild nausea.
Still, NFT TV isn’t necessarily awful. In fact, it feels like a natural response to the way things are handled currently. Yes, it would be cool if I could own a member of the Scooby gang. Like anyone else, piles of sweet, sweet Cartoon Network money and the ultimate nostalgasm are, indeed, my thing. But no one’s going to fractionalize Scooby Doo, because the IP’s already making bank for the select few who were lucky enough to inherit their grandpappy’s smart investment. So, average people who want in on something similar have no choice but to go the web3 way, speculating on whether an IP that doesn’t even exist yet could ever become valuable or viable, based on a very small amount of often-misleading information.
At the end of the day, the backwards model of NFT IP-building isn’t inherently bad. Sure, most PFPs are bound to gather dust on a hardware wallet, at best, and on OpenSea, at worst. But it’s true of the ‘forward’ way of making IPs, too. Plenty of creatives have created a whole ass world, written a whole ass story, cast a whole ass cast, et al, only for the script to get tossed on the slush pile, the pilot to not get picked up, the series to be cancelled after one season. With creativity comes failure, especially if your only metric for success is financial. And, regardless of how many in-jokes you cram into your script or NFT utility you integrate cleverly, at the end of the day, a good story is a good story. Only, on web3 TV, none has yet been told.