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The divisive J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” just wrapped up its first season run on Amazon Prime Video, so it’s understandable that some Americans have Middle-Earth on the brain. Perhaps hoping to capitalize on a sudden 2022 outbreak of Tolkien Fever, Warner Bros. Discovery – which produced Peter Jackson’s original “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” film series – has joined forces with blockchain company Eluvio on a new “Web3 Movie Experience.”
Fans now have the option to purchase limited edition multimedia NFT versions of the first film in Jackson’s franchise of Tolkien adaptations, “The Fellowship of the Ring.” This includes a 4K UHD cut of the 2001 movie’s 3-hour-and-45-minute “Extended Edition,” plus all the bonus features you’d expect if you were buying a physical or digital copy of the film: bonus footage, commentaries, image galleries and other odds and ends.
WB Discovery wanted the NFTs to be available at a reasonable price, but make them scarce enough to make them valuable. So Eluvio – which also launched NFTs based on “The Walking Dead” back in June – plans to mint 10,000 copies of the “Fellowship of the Ring” Mystery Edition, priced at $30. Each copy comes with one of three location-based menus, modeled on locations featured in the film. (Think The Shire or Rivendell.) Only 999 “Epic Edition” NFTs will make it into the world. At $100 a pop, those come with all three menus, plus another bonus image gallery.
Apparently, the studio and the blockchain company have mapped out an entire “WB Movieverse” of collaborations, with two more of “experiences” coming soon. (I’m guessing “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King,” to complete the set? But who knows. Maybe “Twister.”)
The NFT rollout is a first for a major Hollywood studio, but beyond the core concept of combining a digital movie release and blockchain technology, there’s really not all that much to it. The Verge points out that, at least so far, the NFTs themselves sound like a “gussied-up, browser-based DVD selection menu,” while Gizmodo dubbed the entire project “even more ludicrous than normal” for the entertainment NFT space.
Some on social media mocked the launch announcement’s diverse font selections while others, including Protocol reporter Nick Statt, pointed out the inherent conflict between using the work of J.R.R. Tolkien – a passionate and outspoken environmentalist – to sell reportedly energy-draining, planet-killing NFTs. (It is worth noting that Eluvio claims to provide a “significantly more carbon-efficient alternative” for NFT minting than other, comparable platforms.)
Even if the “Lord of the Rings” NFTs can overcome the anti-environmental stigma, it’s just generally an awkward time to be launching a new way to buy Hollywood films. Though physical media sales aren’t entirely dead, and many Americans still purchase digital copies of movies from VOD services, this is quickly transitioning from a major segment of entertainment consumers to a relatively niche group of collectors. (Warner Bros. Discovery’s recent decision to delete some of its films and shows from users’ digital libraries probably isn’t going to help garner trust.) So it’s certainly not a sure thing that the digital collectible craze will prove a long-term hit with the kind of movie fans who still pay to purchase their own copies of films.
Worst case scenario for the studios is a full-scale fan rebellion, of the sort that has been unfolding in the gaming industry. The 2021 crypto boom led many game developers and publishers to fully embrace web3 and blockchain technology, announcing a steady stream of supposedly innovative and cutting edge new projects, only to encounterpassionate, even ferociouspushback from gamers.
A new digital asset class with built-in scarcity – allowing players to truly own and trade virtual items – in some ways seems a natural fit for games. But for many players, the idea of embedding a lot more virtual stuff to buy – and a shift to centering projects around bespoke, pay-to-play content – couldn’t help but remind them of past usurious developments in the industry, like the infamous rise of expensive “loot boxes.”
So far, film-related NFT projects have prompted some snark on social media, and the occasional legal challenge, but not the backlash that their gaming counterparts experienced. It’s not inconceivable that, one day, your choices for rewatching “Black Adam” at home could include not just grabbing the Blu-Ray, buying it on Amazon, or finding it on HBO Max, but by dipping into your Eluvio Wallet. — Lon Harris
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What We’re Reading...
- Kevin Hart’s early-stage VC firm, Hartbeat Ventures takes its first outside investment from J.P. Morgan.
- SpaceX looks to enter the in-flight Wifi market with its new aviation-specific Starlink satellite internet service.
- Biotech firm Amgen completes its $3.7 billion acquisition of biopharmaceutical firm ChemoCentryx.