Once the home of Frank Sinatra's vinyl recordings, Warner Music Group has ventured into the virtual entertainment world. The company announced it will partner with a virtual concert provider and invest in a tech company that plans to develop avatars and create NFTs for the label's artists.
Monday's announcement that Warner will enter into a content and investment partnership with Los Angeles-based Wave followed a similar announcement Friday that the venerable music label will partner with Genies, a tech company that will help develop a virtual presence for Warner artists and NFTs for their artwork and music.
"The commercial opportunity in the metaverse has exploded in the last several years, with the past few months seeing a tipping point for mainstream adoption of immersive social experiences and virtual communities," Oana Ruxandra, EVP, business development and chief digital officer at WMG, said in a news release.
Wave, a virtual concerts platform, uses its technology to transform artists into digital avatars through which they can perform livestreamed concerts for fans. It has recently released performances from artists such as The Weeknd and John Legend.
"Wave is indisputably a leader in the interactive virtual entertainment space and the right partner to help us grow WMG's efforts," Ruxandra added. "Our artists and their fans will be getting best-in-class experiences, as we pioneer new forms of consumption and monetization."
The agreement will allow Warner to develop virtual performances, experiences and monetization opportunities for its line-up of artists across its labels, including "new forms of ticketing, sponsorship and in-show interactions for fans," the company said.
In the past few months, Warner has announced it has invested in social gaming platform Roblox and experimental virtual artist record label Spirit Bomb, "enabling artists to power their creative visions and engage fans in new ways," the company said.
Warner did not release financial details of its investment in Wave.
In addition to the digital avatars for live performances, Wave offers live chats, virtual gifting and voting, as well as real-time audience appearances during artists' performances.
"WMG has an incredible history of being a trailblazer in the music industry. They share our vision for pulling the future forward using new technologies that benefit artists and fans alike," said Adam Arrigo, CEO and co-founder of Wave. "We're excited to partner with them to create interactive events that are unlike any other virtual concerts ever experienced."
The deal with Warner is one of Wave's biggest partnerships to date. It has also teamed up with Tencent Music Entertainment as well as investment from Justin Bieber, J. Balvin, The Weeknd, Scooter Braun, Top Dawg Entertainment, Maveron and Griffing Gaming.
Wave has so far hosted more than 50 events for popstars, DJs and artists.
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L.A.-based digital avatar company Genies has a plan to monetize the metaverse.
The startup announced Monday it has closed a $65 million Series B fundraise. Genies, which got its start building cartoon-like online avatars for celebrities, recently opened its platform up to anyone who wants to create their own digital "fantasy version" of themselves.
Chief executive Akash Nigam previously told dot.LA that his company, which does not publicize its financials but has now raised over $110 million, hopes to earn "99.9%" of its revenues from the digital goods economy. The new funding will be used to further build out that ambition.
The round was led by BOND, whose general partner Mary Meeker publishes a widely read annual report on internet trends. NEA, Breyer Capital, Tull Investment Group, NetEase, Dapper Labs, and Coinbase Ventures also participated.
The digital goods available for purchase will come directly from Genies and in partnership with celebrities. They will continue using their avatars to promote milestones like new albums and song releases, and can now commemorate those milestones with "special edition" digital items they can sell to fans.
Later this year, users will also be able to purchase and trade tokenized digital goods – that is, digital swag whose ownership and uniqueness is verifiable with an NFT, or nonfungible token. That's the outcome of Genies' recently announced partnership with Dapper Labs, the company that operates two of the most popular NFT exchanges, NBA Top Shot and CryptoKitties.
Genies is expanding into a digital goods marketplace where fans can buy digital items from creators and celebrities.
Genies launched in 2017 and quickly established itself as the go-to provider of cartoonish avatars for celebrities, with initial ambitions to operate as a digital avatar talent agency. It has worked with thousands of celebrities, primarily musicians, including Justin Bieber, Jennifer Lopez, Shawn Mendes (who is also an investor) and Rihanna. The company recently announced a partnership with Warner Music Group, which plans to use Genies' avatars and latest features for its roster of artists.
In late 2020, it partnered with Gucci and Facebook-owned Giphy to let those companies' digital users build avatars on their apps. This was a key step in Genies' ongoing expansion beyond celebrities. The company plans to grow its software development kit to incorporate the same functionality into other third-party platforms.
In addition to taking a cut of digital-good sales on its own platform, Genies also aims to make money through its integrations with other apps by capitalizing on its association with celebrities. Genies' outlines its pitch to other platforms in three steps: celebrities create digital goods on your platform; users buy those goods for their avatar; you get a cut. Genies also says it can help design the digital goods and analyze user data to guide design decisions.
With its new funding, new app and expanding SDK integrations, Genies hopes to enable users to bring their avatars anywhere on the web, and monetize the customization of those avatars. The company is building out its executive suite to oversee that vision.
It'll be competing with Snap-owned Bitmoji, among others.
"Genies has opened the door to a new type of virtual self-expression that is changing the way we interact with one another online – starting with celebrities and moving to all of us," said Meeker in a statement. "Using your Genie avatar, you can be anyone you want to be in the way you want, communicating across the vast digital landscape. We're excited for our partnership, and look forward to helping Genies grow the metaverse, one avatar at a time."
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Matt Skiba helped to build Snap Inc.'s executive team in 2018 and 2019, a period that proved to be the beginning of the Santa Monica-based company's remarkable ascendancy in the public markets. He is now charged with a similar task at L.A.-based digital avatar platform Genies.
The company began primarily as a designer and manager of digital avatars for celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna and Shawn Mendes to use across social media, but lately is expanding into the consumer market.
"The opportunity to be a part of Genies was a seat on a rocket ship that I couldn't refuse," said Skiba, who most recently was a partner at executive search firm True Search and now becomes Genies' VP of Talent.
Genies launched in 2017 and has since raised over $50 million, according to Crunchbase. Late last year, the company's newly improved graphics were flaunted in New York's Times Square via Justin Bieber's avatar.
"Avatars are a prerequisite to the metaverse," CEO Akash Nigam previously told dot.LA, when Genies announced its new software development kit that is meant to help spread its avatars through users across the web and social media.
Skiba previously spent three and a half years at Snap, where he worked alongside chief executive Evan Spiegel, hiring a handful of executives at a time when Snap's post-IPO prospects looked dim as its stock price languished in single digits. He said the most important lesson he took away from his time at Snap was to be pragmatic but unafraid of being contrarian.
"You see those characteristics come through with the company, especially with Evan," Skiba said. "Akash resembles a lot of those similar characteristics."
Skiba now plans to build out Genies' C-suite and firm up the HR operations at the 50-person company as it embarks on its next chapter.
"Executive recruiting is kind of like dating. You've got to kiss some frogs in order to find your prince or princess," he said.
Skiba views Genies as a vehicle to give people, especially millennials and Gen Z, the power to express themselves on the internet. He sees parallels to Snap's own innovations of centering the camera into how its users communicate.
"Genies has all the same characteristics of being something that is truly impactful for consumers and for society, especially when you start thinking about self-expression and identity," Skiba said.
In addition to looking back toward Snap for lessons, his new company will also be viewing it as a competitor, as Snap has had its own avatar operation since it acquired Bitmoji in 2016.
Skiba thinks there's plenty of room for both, however, particularly in L.A.
"We've got the people, we've got the curiosity, we've got the creativity and we've got the ingenuity," he said. "That's my excitement for where I see L.A. going, and positioning itself as one of the hotbeds for technology and innovation."
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