Held on April 26th 2022, the TellyCast Content Funding Festival sought to unpack the various innovative ways in which producers can finance their shows. While some sessions explored familiar territory like co-production and branded content, others looked at emerging models that are disrupting traditional ways of doing business. At 14.15, for example, the focus was on Web 3.0, in NFT & Blockchain – Opportunities and Pitfalls; sponsored by MContent. This complex and challenging panel was moderated by Creatorville’s Sam Barcroft, while panellists included Umair Masoom, CEO/founder of Dubai-based MContent, Phil McKenzie of Goldfinch and Lizzie Williams of law firm Harbottle & Lewis.
The emergence of NFTs and blockchain ledger technology is one of the hottest topics in the media business right now, and was explored extensively at the recent MIPTV market in Cannes. All told, sales of NFTs are reckoned to have hit $25bn in 2021 – with IP owners and brands keen to embrace the sector. While the primary area of activity right now is the trading of digital collectables and membership models, pioneers in the field see scope for NFTs to play a role in the funding, marketing and distribution of content. Below is an edited version of the discussion, which can also be listened to in full on the TellyCast podcast.
Moderator Sam Barcroft provided an introduction to Web 3.0 in which he explored definitions of blockchain, NFTs and cryptocurrency, advising delegate to visit sites like Coinbase and OpenSea to get a feel for the crypto and NFT marketplaces. He also explained that the concept of Web 3.0 relates to decentralisation of the internet. Instead of a few huge companies controlling the web, the theory is that people will regain control of their data and be properly compensated for it. Then he opened up discussion to the panellists:
SB: Umair, tell us about MContent
Umair Masoom: MContent is a collaborative content ecosystem that self-funds and fuels the creation, trade, consumption and production of content using the power of Blockchain, by enabling content creators to connect with potential investors. It is the first content funding ecosystem in the world, covering the entire funnel. We are the first company in the world delivering the product. There are lots talking about doing something similar but we have actually pulled off the product. We start by funding content creators in two categories. One is established professionals, the other is film-makers lacking opportunities.
SB: So how does Blockchain fit into this model?
UM: You need to start by understanding that blockchain has the power to resolve any gap that exists. These gaps could be funding gaps or gaps between supply and demand. We recently sold a Supercar as an NFT because we had lot of buyers and only a few products to sell. So we decided to mint the Supercar as an NFT, creating a kind of distributed ownership and timeshare model.
In the content industry, we think the biggest problem that exists is centralisation. While centralisation is good for a few, many don’t get enough opportunities because of centralisation. Using the power of blockchain, it becomes possible to decentralise and give the power to the viewer. This means the viewer has the opportunity to directly invest into content he watches. Once he/she becomes the owner of the content, he can define where to invest. That creates more opportunity for more producers and film-makers.
SB: Drill down a bit more into the two core parts of your business, Umair.
The first part of our business is that we fund content. Until now, we have funded 20 global productions and we are about to sign up our first Hollywood film and a global reality show. So there is a lot of work on funding side. The second thing that we do is that we launched the world’s first ‘WatchtoEarn’ platform. If you go to the App Store, you can download our App. In simple terms, WatchtoEarn just means by watching TV content you can earn. If you go to Netflix or Amazon, the platform/producer/creator is making money but the audience isn’t making anything. We think the current model of marketing is slightly flawed, because brands are trying to show an ad to someone who is not interested. They are waiting for the ad to be skipped or the channel to be switched, but when they are the owner of the content they become captive. In our WatchtoEarn ecosystem, just by watching you earn our digital cryptocurrency, which is MContent coin. Right now it is traded on several exchanges.
SB: So pausing you there, MContent has its own cryptocurrency coin?
UM: Yes, it lives on two blockchains, the Ethereum blockchain and the Binance blockchain. And it also lives on several live exchanges.
SB: So if I wanted to finance some content and thought you had some hit series in the works, I’d go one of these exchanges and use my own digital currency to buy some MContent coin. You would then deploy that coin into content?
UM: Every time there is a buyer or seller of our Crypto there is a 4% ‘content creators fund’ tax. That goes into funding of content, which is why this is a sustainable ecosystem. When we make money on these productions, 50% of all the revenue is utilised to buy more token from the market and burn it. This effectively means you reduce the supply. So there is no way for this ecosystem to stop going up, unless the content you’re funding is bad which is not the case.
The other side of the business is that people who can’t afford to invest in content can download app and watch content. They are still part of the ecosystem because they earn tokens just by consuming. I know it sounds funny, but we’ve seen Web 3.0 companies that pay gamers to play games. Previously, gamers were always used to paying to play games. But in two years there has been so much disruption that now 60% of gamers globally only play when they earn.
SB: How does MContent earn money from its WatchtoEarn platform?
UM: The primary model for revenue coming back is advertising. If I tell an advertiser I can give them an audience that is really interested in their ad because they own the content, they might be prepared to pay a 2X premium. Show an ad to someone who has an interest in the content and they are captive audience. That advertiser premium should be able to cover cost of the platform, the revenue requirements of producers and whatever we pay to the viewer
SB: You have quite a viewer focused philosophy, don’t you?
UM: Our vision is to make sure that, in the next three years, viewers have a stake in at least 80% stake of content. By this I mean either co-ownership of content or getting something back from platforms like WatchtoEarn. As a viewer, you should be able to make something from the content you consume in a 24-hour cycle. Globally viewers are the king-makers. It is not Netflix, Amazon or the major studios. If the viewers stop watching, then no content will survive.
SB: Phil, you’ve launched a new blockchain-enabled platform FF3 into film financing. What led you to launch a whole platform? Traditionally, financiers tend to move in the shadows – so this feels like quite a bold move
Phil McKenzie: Across Goldfinch, it’s all about how can we provide service and support to the creator and the person with the idea. One of those businesses is called First Flights, which is an incubator for second time film-makers and TV creators. First Flights has been a huge success and is now a good community of 10,000 – so a couple of years ago we started thinking, how do we harness that community? One idea we had was moving First Flights into crowdfunding, where everyone contributes money and we run a short film fund every quarter where we reallocate that money to the top entries. That has been running for a couple of years and Goldfinch tops it up with some funds of its own. At the same time, we had been kicking ideas around on blockchain because we saw it could solve a series of problems in the industry like transparency and tracking payments, with there being a ledger so everyone can see who is funding what really clearly. But we didn’t quite know how to put that it into our business and where it sat. Then NFT started to bubble up. That’s when we hit upon the idea of creating the Web 3.0, crypto version of crowdfunding, centred around the creative industry. So that ended up being what is now FF3. In simple terms, as an investor/patron/audience, you come on to the platform, bring cryptocurrency and exchange it for tokens in a project. Each token provides access to tiers of rewards and within those tiers can be anything you want, but mostly it’s NFTs. And within those NFTs there is a bunch of utility, such as access to content before anyone sees it or events. That NFT is a pass to get you where you want.
SB: One of best use case for Web 3.0 and NFTs is likely to be ticketing, and it kind of acts in the same way if you appropriate it to a piece of content.
PM: Right, and you can keep going back to it as well. So once a person has an NFT you can build in long term value and benefits that keep giving back. So when people ask ‘isn’t it just crowdfunding?”, the answer is that it is, but it’s putting it on steroids and giving investors something of real meaning and value. It’s not just a signed DVD or trucker cap. And going back to why we did this – it’s about solving a funding problem. How do you get the first 20% or last 20% into your project? If you can appeal to your audience through the content you have created, get them to put it in that first 20% and give them something meaningful back. And separate to that, how much content is out there that isn’t finding an audience, as Umair said, because it isn’t in the centralised system we currently have. There is always a market for certain niche, zeitgeisty things, so why not let people build their community and projects through a platform like ours?
SB: So where are you right now?
PM: We did our first raise successfully and have three more projects lined up in the next three months, all around short films. Then we’re going to open it up to any creator who wants to come on and list a project. They can then use the tech to allocate tokens to investors in exchange for NFTs and other rewards.
SB: So you’re finding a new way to look after your community, which you’ve built, and potentially stakeholders in the industry such as young film-makers.
PM: It’s all about giving people access to more funds. But the ideal will be to get the best out of both this approach and the traditional funding system.
SB: You’re obviously starting to have success with your model. But are there any other successful examples of NFTs in the TV/streamer space?
PM: Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis’s Stoner Cats is an example. It helps that famous celebrities were backing it, but that’s the kind of project that lends itself to this Web 3.0 space. It was an animated, millennium-style, production where they released characters as NFTs. You could buy those characters and then your funds were used to finance production of a Stoner Cats TV series. Once you had that NFT, you had access not just to episodes, but other events and benefits.
UM: We had one interesting NFT example. We launched a documentary film that became really popular. People wanted to watch the bloopers so we minted them as NFTs. People who bought the NFTs could watch them and also had exclusive access to a premiere event. The basic rule is that anything that has more buyers than sellers can potentially be minted as an NFT.
SB: That’s a good insight Umair. I’ll add another. Don’t try and do an NFT first and then build an audience. Get the audience, then sell them an NFT.
Phil and Umair, can you tell us about some of the projects you are prioritising?
PM: We have an online premiere for a horror film coming up. After that, it will probably go down the usual international film distribution route
For FF3, we are also looking at projects that lean into the crypto space. So that we can build a community that has more cryptonatives involved. One of our biggest learnings to date is that cryptonatives are most likely to back projects quickly. In our first funding raise, we spent a lot of time trying to educate crypto newbies about the platform. We should have spent more time targeting people familiar with crypto so we could build a critical mass of investors.
UM: We are funding all types of content – scripted and unscripted. We are interested in any piece of content that connects with the audience. We want to work with early adopters who are happy to get out of their comfort zone. The one big challenge perhaps is that producers that work with us have to be able to let go of their IP. Because the IP belongs to the platform’s token holders.
SB: So, we’ve met the evangelists. But every Wild West territory need a sheriff. So Lizzie can you tell us what you do in the NFT/blockchain space?
Lizzie Williams: One area is pre-emptive. People come with projects or ideas and want to make sure they are going to work without them getting into trouble. That might be a company that is planning to distribute content but wants to make sure they have understood the IP rights situation properly. When they sell NFTs they want to ensure a) that buyers are getting the rights they think they paid for and b) they not giving away more than they intended. There are a lot of amazing opportunities but this is about reducing risk… stepping back and making sure the client gets it right up front. Often it involves having coders and lawyers together in a room trying to collaborate on a smart contract – making sure that the client isn’t missing things that the lawyers want to put in it.
SB: There’s also a regulatory aspect to this, I believe.
LW: People selling NFTs need to know which territory’s legislation they are governed by and what that regulation entails. It is tricky, but you have to be clear about the governing jurisdiction so you know which laws will govern your contract and how the local courts are likely to interpret rights disputes.
SB: There’s also a particular issue with legacy rights, isn’t there? A lot of big studios are trying to bolt on NFTs like they did with social media – but it’s not easy to integrate them when you are dealing with a retroactive rights scenario.
LW: There’s a high profile case involving Quentin Tarantino, who was trying to mint NFTs based on the Pulp Fiction script (this was challenged by Miramax). The problem here is that you’re often dealing with contracts that were written long before NFTs and blockchain were even thought of.
SB: So I guess another part of your job is sorting out messes?
LW: Yes, people sometimes find themselves in a position where they are receiving letters complaining about their NFTs, or they may have had their NFTs taken down on Opensea. Often the problem comes down to lack of clarity over what exactly the buyer has acquired. Talking about ‘owning’ an NFT is great marketing spiel, but the reality is that what has been sold is often just a license to view something for personal use. That can be a very enjoyable right, but sellers have to understanding exactly what it is they are buying.
SB: Umair, how do you work with producers that are interested in the platform but still not comfortable with being paid in cryptocurrency?
UM: Usually, production payment is in crypto. But if producer is not comfortable working on in that way, we have fiat options that tie into the model.
SB: Phil, what makes crowdfunding through NFTs superior to something like Kickstarter? Isn’t it just a more complicated version of the same thing?
PM: It’s not more complicated – it’s a similar user experience. We worked hard to make it as simple as possible. In terms why more it’s valuable, it comes down to the strengths of blockchain and NFTs. Because it is on blockchain, it is verifiable. And because it’s an NFT it has the potential to develop as a long-term valuable asset if the community gets behind it. The USP is that the relationship between investors and creators can generate something of real value.
UM: The differentiator from Kickstarter is the sense of community that comes from having everyone promoting their projects. It’s also a very global opportunity. We are running our business out of the UAE but have 40000 daily users from all around the world including the US. If we were on Kickstarter, our community would have been focused much more on the Middle East.
SB: Lizzie, what’s the first step people should take to get NFTs right?
LW: We always start by sending out a checklist asking about how and where the entity wants to structure itself. And then there are those questions about regulation and what rights the seller wants to give away. Everything has to be done to the letter which is why lawyers have an important role. One problem right now, however, is that the people most interested in this area are often startups – and they are the ones who don’t have money to spend on lawyers.
SB: There are lots of stories about the negative impact of NFTs/crypto on the environment. Is that an obstacle to the development of the sector?
PM: There’s a lot of press around this, but the reality is that it depends a lot on what exchange you are on. The carbon footprint on some exchanges is tiny. The good news is that there are some incredibly bright driven people working on Web 3.0 and I’m sure they will come up with the right solutions.
About the contributors:
Content entrepreneur and strategist Sam Barcroft is best known as the founder of Barcroft Studios – a digital-first factual studio that built more than 63 million followers across social platforms. Barcroft Studios was acquired by Future plc in 2019 and, after a short career break, Sam Barcroft is now back as head of Creatorville, which help entrepreneurs realise their creative goals.
Digital entrepreneur Umair Masoom is co-founder of UAE-based MContent. MContent claims to have built the world’s first fully tokenised Watch2Earn platform. Masoom says the company has also managed to conceptualise, create and launch the World’s first tokenised content ecosystem “with the purpose of seed funding, incubating and curating film-makers and content producers”. To date, MContent has funded $5 million worth of content creation. The ecosystem is supported by thousands of investors globally who are either buying MContent native tokens or crowdfunding NFTs minted through MContent.
Phil McKenzie is chief operating officer of Goldfinch, a company that is exploring opportunities in Web 3.0. Based in London, Mackenzie describes Goldfinch as a commercially-minded team that backs “talent and ideas. We’ve been involved in financing 300+ productions since inception in 2014, with many going on to win awards and critical acclaim. We also provide executive production and co-production services. Additionally we access venture capital, to date supplying start-up funds to more than 20 company founders.” Key innovations include FF3, a blockchain-powered, community-based crowdfunding platform.
Lizzie Williams is a dispute resolution lawyer who advises on corporate, commercial and individual disputes. Williams has a particular interest in disputes relating to innovative technologies and digital transformation, including disputes involving blockchain technology (eg NFTs, crypto fraud) and contractual disputes for tech businesses. She is a regular blogger and podcaster on NFTs.