The media and entertainment industry, in particular Hollywood, has a grip-like monopoly on the intellectual property, or IP, produced for public consumption. Writers and artists rarely maintain true ownership over the characters they create and have little to no say in the merchandise or content that is ultimately presented. Similarly, viewers and fans rarely have power over the stories that are told by the franchises they consume.
Let's take Marvel comics, for example. Many of the company's most famous characters were originally created by comic book artists like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. The late Stan Lee, however, ended up suing Marvel in 2002, claiming he didn't get his proper share of the profits. And he isn't alone. Currently, Disney's Marvel and Steve Ditko's family estate are in a legal battle over who gets to retain full ownership over many Avengers-related characters.
This tide may be changing, however, thanks to blockchain. To get more insight into intellectual property when it comes to blockchain, Cointelegraph spoke to Daniel Eilemberg, content president at EXILE, a media company that produces entertainment content across the United States and Latin America.
According to Eilemberg, "most of the IP behind today’s biggest Hollywood franchises isn’t new" because Hollywood tends to be "rather risk-averse" when it comes to creating new IPs. Instead, it prefers to "breath new life and extends the lifeline," of established properties. Independent creators who do incubate new content tend to go through outlets like books, comics, theatre or podcasts first. The nonfungible token (NFT) space now offers independent creators an opportunity to produce art and build a fanbase without a big money intermediary.
That's why EXILE partnered with start-up Curatible and painter Edgar Plans to found an original NFT project in-studio, rather than acquire one, called Lil' Heroes. Its characters exist as assets on the Ethereum blockchain and the plan is to develop the concept into an animated TV series. Eilemberg described how the characters, themselves, and the potential of plot lines created by fans served as the foundation of the NFT collection.
"When I first saw Edgar's characters and the universe they inhabit, we fell in love with them," said Eilemberg. "They’re children playing out their fantasies as superheroes, and we knew that would really connect with audiences."
Eilemberg lamented that the idea of a distributed and transparent creative process was quite different from traditional film and TV development. Lil' Heroes wants to challenge that using a new IP and by leveraging its growing and loyal fanbase. The team aims to attract a community of young fans via a new kind of entertainment franchise, with the NFT drop as the first step in a multi-phase plan.
Conversations between EXILE, Plans and Curitable — a startup that recruits high-caliber artists to the NFT space — first took place over a year ago. Plans hand-drew every attribute and then modeled it in 3D to create the NFTs. The Lil’ Heroes collection dropped in mid-January, sold out and trended first on OpenSea by volume in the first 24 hours. The collection's reveal took place one week later, and at the time of publication ranked in 15th place in terms of trading volume in the last 30 days. Eilemberg attributed much of the project's success thus far to the art, itself.
"I think it’s a combination of an established artist whose characters have proven to be very appealing and approachable, a strong roadmap backed by a team with experience in the art, entertainment and NFT spaces, and the right project at the right time."
Despite these early wins, the project has a long road ahead. According to the Lil' Heroes roadmap, token holders can expect exclusive merchandise as well as NFT charity lots to be included in upcoming Sotheby's and PHILLIPS auctions. Eilemberg told Cointelegraph that he's currently in-talks with one of the industry's largest metaverse projects. He suggested that, if all goes well, they're looking to build, "an immersive experience that will incorporate art, music and NFTs."
According to the Lil’ Heroes website, part of the mission of this collaboration is "to build a bridge between the traditional art and the NFT world." And each character is meant to be a “vessel to raise awareness on heavy, socio-political issues such as gender violence, racism and climate change.”
NFTs, by nature, allow for the distribution of value to their holders, especially to early fans, who in this case will gain access to the aforementioned activities, with the potential for virtual and real-life events and to fractionalized physical art proposed by Plans. Eventually, EXILE hopes to produce an animated series in collaboration with Plans, which could be made available on streaming platforms. The characters' stories will be created with input from their community, according to Eilemberg.
Lil' Heroes is just one of many NFT collections with plans for the small screen. From 1inch Network's crypto-funded Take My Muffin and The Red Ape Family featuring Bored Apes to Mila Kunis' Stoner Cats series, these are all examples of projects that require user participation to access and influence.