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‘Silicon Valley’ Producers Tap Ethereum NFTs for User-Generated Comedy – Decrypt

In brief

  • Terrible Pets is an upcoming Web3 project featuring Hollywood veterans such as Alec Berg and Mike Judge.
  • It lets NFT holders use chunks of comedic material to create, share, and potentially benefit from their own online content.

There’s been no shortage of celebrities entering Web3 to drop NFT collectibles, but more and more established creators are eyeing blockchain technology as a way to rethink the creative process in bringing entertainment to life.

Now, some of the comedic minds behind HBO’s hit series “Silicon Valley” have unveiled their own attempt, Terrible Pets. The project will use Ethereum NFTs to “turn content itself into LEGO blocks,” letting owners use them to build meme-able online content, said Fika Media co-founder and CEO Adam Altman.

“Silicon Valley” executive producer and showrunner Alec Berg is a co-founder of Fika, as are producers Jonathan Dotan and Bubba Murarka. The show’s co-creator, Mike Judge—also behind “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill”—is an angel investor and a potential future collaborator for the startup, Berg said.

Berg, also a co-creator of HBO’s “Barry” and an executive producer on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” told Decrypt that while television and film technology have improved over the years, the process of creating scripted media hasn’t changed much in decades. Web3 offers a new way to co-create and collaborate with a potentially wide and diverse audience.

“With the technology, there’s potential to actually re-architect the way stories are told and the way they’re built,” Berg said. “I just think that’s super exciting.”

Altman, a tech entrepreneur, said he was inspired by the early pandemic success of audio chat app Clubhouse, which he saw bring people together from disparate backgrounds. He amassed a large following on the service (and became an investor), and alongside Murarka and Berg they considered how that same “social energy” could be applied to creative content.

Altman said he agreed with Berg’s thesis that “the greatest creativity in the world is in the far corners of the internet.” Entertainment studios have talent, resources, and distribution, but simple memes command huge attention and spread all around the globe.

“An 8-year-old in Indonesia can blow my mind on a Saturday morning, when done right,” Altman added.

Terrible Pets is Fika’s attempt to marry those two approaches: creative seeds and technology from well-funded professionals, but with the ability for a community to tap into those resources to remix and share all kinds of content. They’ve developed the premise “like a TV show,” said Altman, but with an eye toward enabling online, user-generated content.

And while the project is built around Ethereum NFTs—that is, blockchain tokens that serve as a proof of ownership for content or other items—they won’t look or function like the popular Bored Apes or other animal-themed digital collectibles.

Building with NFTs

The eight anthropomorphic creatures that make up Terrible Pets’ cast are described as “human-like animals with relatable traumas, wrapped in absurdism.” The cartoon creatures meet at Animals Anonymous, a wilderness camp that serves as an emotional support group.

Altman described the premise as “a fun, vibey thing” to build community and relatable content around, and likened the tone to Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman.” However, the characters revealed to date, such as Sussy Sloth and WAGMI Meerkat, nod to crypto culture and social media.

Unlike the Bored Ape Yacht Club, Cool Cats, and Okay Bears, the Terrible Pets NFTs won’t be animal profile pictures with randomized visual traits. Instead, Altman described them as “one-liner blocks of performance” that can be assembled in various ways to create content, recalling the aforementioned comparison to LEGO bricks.

LEGO bricks are easy to use and can be combined in a variety of ways to bring creative ideas to life. Fika sees Terrible Pets NFTs in much the same way. The not-final imagery that Decrypt saw looked similar to the comic panels seen in the embedded tweet above, which could be arranged in various ways or potentially used as a starting point for other types of content.

Fika envisions users assembling these NFT moments into scenes and turning them into shareable social content, whether images or videos.

Holders of specific NFTs in the collection will also have varying benefits within the apps that Fika is creating around Terrible Pets. Ahead of the NFT launch, the team has released a Terrible Pics mobile app for dropping stickers of characters and Minions-esque potato creatures atop photos, but Fika is planning other creation tools down the line.

Unleashing the Pets

In short, Fika has developed the premise of Terrible Pets along with several characters in that world. In addition to creating some in-house content, Fika will release NFTs with written lines of dialogue that can be tapped by collectors to develop their own content, which can potentially help spread this new IP across the internet.

What that ultimately adds up to, or eventually leads to, is still vague, however. In part, it’s fuzzy because Fika is still figuring out the thorny subject of use and commercial rights, and how NFT holders can benefit from the project. But it’s also unclear because the creators first want to see what people do with the tools they’ll provide.

In some NFT collections, like the Bored Ape Yacht Club, holders have commercialization rights and can tap their owned images for products, content, and services. Altman said that the team is working with legal consultation to determine the extent of rights for future NFT holders, but that it “really has yet to be defined and locked down.”

“The vision that we’d love to grow up to is to enable more content creation, and for everyone involved to benefit from that,” he added. “It’s a tricky thing to work through, legally.”

The NFT rollout is currently planned for late summer to early fall, so there’s still time for Fika to flesh out those details. Altman also said to expect “a novel launch approach,” including possible “significant releases” ahead of the NFT mint.

However the NFT benefits work out, Altman said that they aren’t trying to design a model that will “clamp down and constrain” user creations. “It is in everyone’s interest for the content to go as far and wide as possible,” he added. On the other hand, Fika doesn’t want the characters and scenes used for potentially extreme content, so there may be limitations.

Berg and his colleagues said they also want to see where the community takes the prompts and tech, and go from there. Could that mean a Terrible Pets TV show or movie, or some other glossy content? Could user-created scenes be monetized in some way through other media platforms? 

Typically, when writing for television, Berg said that his initial script outline rarely makes it onto the screen. It’s a process of iteration and evolution—seeing what works and what doesn’t, and leaning into what does. With Terrible Pets, they appear intent on letting the community play with the content and figure out what clicks.

“We have a plan about some things we’d like to do, and they’re organized around building things that enable people to do stuff,” said Altman. He described the process as “building the train tracks in front of you as you’re going,” and said that they will learn and pivot along the way en route to potentially grander ambitions.

‘A big swing’

Founded in 2020, Fika has thus far raised about $4 million, a representative told Decrypt. First Round Capital, XYZ Capital, and Moment led the funding. Berg is a backer, as is Craig Mazin of HBO’s acclaimed “Chernobyl,” “Destroyer” director Karyn Kusama, and Malcolm Spellman, creator and showrunner of Disney+’s “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.”

“There’s a pretty big ambition behind this. We’re a venture-backed startup, and you don’t get through that gauntlet without having a big swing in mind, which we do,” Altman said.

“Terrible Pets is the start of that,” he added, but the ultimate goal is to “create a new content format.”

As mentioned, Berg’s “Silicon Valley” colleague Judge is also an angel investor. Judge made his own NFT play late last year, launching “Dancing Dan,” a hand-drawn animated short. It sold in early May for 90 ETH, or about $242,000 at the time, and was released for public use via a CC0 license.

Berg told Decrypt he hopes Judge will be “doing more and more stuff” with Fika in time, adding that Judge created “Beavis and Butt-Head” in his garage and turned it into a major franchise—and in the process created a new way of bringing animation to TV. If Fika’s collective IP-building experiment is successful, then perhaps Terrible Pets will similarly rise.

“I think he has a tremendous appreciation for innovation and starting small, and finding ways that things work,” Berg said of Mike Judge. “He’s an engineer, and he’s somebody who’s built stuff from the ground up. So I think he really understood—more than most people—what was cool about this, what worked about it, and what made sense about it.”

Berg said that he’s excited about exploring this new frontier of Web3 and collaborative content creation—both with professional allies and a potentially vast array of online participants. He pointed to the rise of TikTok “duets” and remixes, and the zeal of social media users to add to and expand others’ creations in search of spreading joy and entertainment.

“That’s not the way movies and TV work typically, right? There’s these kinds of new interactions that happen using this technology,” Berg said. “It’s going to lead to such interesting stuff.”

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