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If you need more proof that NFTs have officially invaded Hollywood, look no further than United Talent Agency’s client roster.
The Beverly Hills-based talent agency recently signed Deadfellaz, an NFT collection of 10,000 zombie portraits. UTA counts Larva Labs, the creators behind the CryptoPunks NFT project, as a client, too. Even Coinbase, the publicly traded cryptocurrency exchange, is now part of UTA’s portfolio.
The agency’s foray into the crypto world shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Digital artists are selling NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, for sky-high prices. NFT exchanges like NBA Top Shot have attracted large fan bases willing to shell out money for digital collectibles. And entertainment companies in the music, film and gaming industries have been quick to venture into NFTs—even if there’s still plenty of skepticism about the digital assets.
“At first, my instinct was that this would be disruptive of things like art,” Lesley Silverman, UTA’s head of Web3 and a former fine art agent, told dot.LA. “We as an agency quickly realized that there would be similar innovation around the way we think about the broader media landscape, and that NFTs, and Web3 more broadly, would impact all of them.”
Silverman was the first full-time digital assets agent at UTA, which claims to be the first major talent agency to launch a dedicated Web3 practice. Other Hollywood talent agencies have since entered the fray—including rival WME, which recently signed a pair of Bored Ape NFTs.
Lesley Silverman, UTA’s head of Web3.
Provided by UTA
Initially, UTA aimed to help its existing clients navigate the Web3 world and launch NFT projects, such as a collaboration between Oscar-winning film score composer Hans Zimmer and NFT artist ThankYouX. But the agency soon realized that crypto is blooding a new generation of creators, founders and influencers who could use representation, Silverman said. Her team now helps clients like Deadfellaz secure brand partnerships, merchandising deals and live events—just like how UTA helps build the careers of actors, musicians and other entertainers.
“Our role is really to sit at the intersection of our clients and the things that may seem out of reach,” she said. “Their big ideas, their exciting plans—and the folks who they want to be connected to in order to carry those plans out.”
UTA has four people across the agency who work closely within the Web3 space, with plans to grow the Web3 group in the coming months. The group has facilitated more than 30 NFT drops, partnerships and other initiatives since launching in early 2021, according to the agency. The division has also worked to build a diverse talent roster, adding female-led projects and creators of color, Silverman said.
With the Web3 landscape constantly evolving, UTA will “remain nimble” when it comes to its NFT strategy, Silverman noted. One approach that’s currently resonating with fans is tying digital assets to real-world goods and experiences; indeed, the agency brokered a deal last month that will let Deadfellaz NFT holders create custom Gilson skis or snowboards depicting their own NFT artwork.
“It’s measurable that consumers want those things, and we are certainly not going to take that information lightly,” Silverman said. “Those are two areas that we will definitely look to expand and advise our clients to pursue.”
UTA recently commissioned a survey which found that while only 6% of U.S. consumers aged 16-to-54 have owned an NFT, about 38% want to own one in the future. Though the study’s results were bullish about the Web3 space overall, they did identify some obstacles; for instance, many consumers remain concerned about crypto scams and market volatility, or simply don’t know how to buy an NFT or what to do with one.
If the crypto industry can reduce those friction points, Silverman believes more consumers will flock to digital assets.
“All of that will lead to just more and more consumers entering into the space and equating digital ownership with how they interact socially, how they participate in communities and how they participate in fandom,” she said.
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The U.S. is at risk of being left behind by the world of cryptocurrencies as other countries more quickly embrace digital assets, Coinbase co-founder and CEO Brian Armstrong said Monday.
Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Armstrong noted that China began working on a digital currency back in 2014. But as seen with its tight grip on the nation’s internet, the Chinese government has looked to deploy crypto as a means of control, he added—making it all the more important that democracies allow crypto to flourish freely.
“In the free world, this technology needs to be embraced,” Armstrong said. “It can be regulated to make it safe and trusted. But the democracies in the free world need to embrace this to have some kind of an answer to other countries trying to lock it down.”
The U.S. government’s slow pace in deciding how to regulate crypto was a major theme during Armstrong’s panel with Cathie Wood, the founder and CEO of asset management firm ARK Invest, and Michael Piwowar, executive director of Milken’s Center for Financial Markets. Wood said she “expected more clarity” from regulators by now; the only thing made clear from the federal government so far, she noted, is that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are not securities.
“We want our country to do the right thing from a regulatory point of view,” she said. “We enjoyed incredible benefits from the birthing of the internet here. This is just the next generation of the internet, so let's get with the program.”
Investment in the crypto and blockchain space skyrocketed last year to more than $30 billion, up from $5.4 billion in 2020, according to the consultancy KPMG. Myriad sectors have recently delved into crypto, from automakers to entertainment companies. But there’s still plenty of skepticism about the industry—from issues around the environmental cost of mining tokens to concerns about the criminal use of cryptocurrencies.
Although the U.S. has moved slowly, Armstrong said there are signs for optimism. He noted President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order directing federal agencies to come up with a plan to regulate cryptocurrencies. And when Armstrong—who heads one of the largest crypto exchange platforms in the world—heads to Capitol Hill, he’s seeing more “pro-crypto” lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, he said.
“It's actually getting harder and harder to meet a true crypto skeptic in D.C.,” Armstrong said.
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Adtech startup Trust, which provides emerging brands with digital advertising data insights, has raised $5 million in new equity funding from investors including Sapphire Sport and former Venmo executive Michael Vaughan.
Launched in August by a group of former Snap executives, Santa Monica-based Trust offers a Bloomberg Terminal-like service allowing small businesses to track digital marketing trends and data, such as the latest prices for ads on Facebook, Google and other platforms. The company pools its data from roughly 650,000 anonymized transactions shared by more than 1,000 brands, it said. It also gives businesses free lines of credit, on 45-day terms, to spend on ads, software and inventory.
Trust collects a fee from vendors like Facebook and Google when brands use its service to buy digital ads, pay for product inventory or acquire software licenses; there are no fees paid by the brands themselves. Trust co-founder and CEO James Borow declined to share the fees paid by digital advertising platforms.
Photo courtesy of Trust
Borow told dot.LA that the idea for Trust can be traced to his days helping build Snap’s ad platform between 2016 to 2019. At the time, the social media giant was creating value for advertisers, but small businesses were largely left out—partly due to the uncertainties and high costs involved with trying out a Snapchat campaign, Borow said.
So Borow and a few of his Snap colleagues floated the idea of building a “growth network” of small businesses that could share data with each other, allowing them to see where similar brands were succeeding with their digital ad campaigns. “If we got all these businesses to band together, we could give them access to better data so they can make better decisions for their business,” he said.
Trust has now raised $14 million in equity funding, including a $9 million seed round last year. The new equity will go toward doubling Trust’s headcount of 20 full-time employees over the next year. The startup has also secured $25 million in debt funding from New York-based investment firm Upper90, which it said will go toward enhancing its lines of credit to brands.
Trust also announced that it had brought another Snap alum into its ranks: Matt Trandall, who spent the last six years building Snap’s partnership organization, will serve as Trust’s senior vice president of partnerships and community.