For television writers, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) offer an opportunity to retain creative control of their work, rather than being at the mercy of big distributors and their commercial goals.
TokenSociety, a platform for artists to mint and drop NFTs, recently launched Men of the House, a sitcom TV series funded entirely by NFT sales. The NFTs bought by audience members are also linked to perks, including opportunities to visit the set and cast. Meanwhile, crypto community Mad Realities produced an interactive dating TV show by treating NFTs as membership passes – pass holders can vote on the future of the show, including saving and eliminating contestants, as well as accessing a higher-tier membership where they can get even more involved in the production of the show.
Ash Brannon, Sarah Cole and Chris Cartagena are the team behind Stoner Cats, an online TV show about a group of sentient cats. They pitched the show to various studios and, while there was a lot of interest, there wasn't anywhere quite prepared to house an animated show for adults. In other words, mainstream networks didn't believe there was a demand for this sort of content and so were hesitant to fund its production. They were also a little afraid of airing any ‘weed content’, Ash and Sarah point out. ‘We didn't get any outright nos, but we also didn't get any yeses.’
Delivering on experience
The Stoner Cats team turned to NFTs not only to financially back the show, but also to connect directly with their audience. They spent hours creating and training a computer program to make 10,420 different Stoner Cat NFTs for their audience to invest in.
‘We were really new to the NFT world, but I've appreciated two advantages,’ says Ash. ‘Financially, we have the ability to have some money and actually create something, and the community-building alongside our audience has been amazing. They're influencing the show and which direction we take it in.’
Since individual people have invested in Stoner Cats, Ash, Sarah and Chris have essentially drawn up a contract with each of the NFT holders, promising them six episodes of five to seven minutes each. And already the team have found themselves delivering episodes of eight or nine minutes.
‘We have this organic and direct communication with token holders on both Discord and Twitter, and we see people talking about the show, forming conspiracy theories and speculating about its direction,’ Ash says. ‘We have other ways that people can participate in the show, from being characters on it to scanning QR codes.’
A wild west
But the intersection of NFTs and entertainment still feels like navigating a blank page, Sarah says, because it's all so new. The Stoner Cats team needed to not only fund a whole TV production crew using the NFTs, but also work out the practicalities of connecting crypto wallets to their site. They've also opted not to give their token holders commercial rights to maintain the show's brand and intellectual property as much as possible.
There are some things that are just out of their hands, like the transaction fees – known as gas fees – for NFTs. If the network ever crashes, buyers lose their transaction fees, which can be detrimental to the brand they're buying from. The Stoner Cats NFTs sold out in 26 minutes, and the level of traffic going through the network meant that the transaction fees skyrocketed. So much so that people were paying more for the fee than for the NFT itself. As a gesture of goodwill, the Stoner Cats team decided to refund some of the extortionate gas fees to their backers.
‘For a lot of people, this was their first NFT project and we didn't want to give an implication of being a cash grab,’ Sarah says.