A fad or the future: are we ready for the rise of NFT TV shows?

By Stuart Heritage
A NFT (Non-fungible token) sign is seen on a smartphone
‘Very few people are willing or able to drop that sort of money on a television series, which makes me doubt the model’s viability. But maybe that’s not the point.’ Photograph: Pavlo Gonchar/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock

If, like me, you spent the first week of the year excitedly hoovering up every last “Best upcoming shows of 2022” list online, I’m afraid I have some bad news. Not one list mentioned GenZeroes, and GenZeroes has the potential to be the most important television series ever made. Or, you know, it might be a steaming bag of turds that is watched by literally zero people on Earth. But, hey, it’s always nice to be positive.

Because, just as the television industry is starting to adjust to the popularity of non-linear, streaming viewing habits, GenZeroes represents the next incredible frontier of home entertainment. That’s right, GenZeroes is an NFT (non-fungible token) show.

Now, true, the success of GenZeroes seems to be slightly hamstrung by the fact that nobody really seems to know what an NFT is. According to a report in Deadline this week, to watch an episode of GenZeroes, viewers will have to purchase an NFT through a specific website and, depending on the level of NFT purchased, receive access to a range of benefits or even ownership of the show itself. Which, as barriers to entry go, is just a little bit higher than “turn on the television”.

Still, direct payment for television programmes is nothing new. Louis CK tried something vaguely similar when he offered new episodes of Horace and Pete to his email subscribers for $5 a pop. The system didn’t take off for a number of reasons, among them that the show was weird and meandering, that CK repeatedly griped about how much money he lost making it, and that he was quickly banished from the mainstream due to a flood of sexual impropriety allegations.

Either way, with Horace and Pete you only needed to know your credit card number. For GenZeroes, you basically have to learn an entirely new financial system. That might be worth it if GenZeroes has an unmissable premise and acres of buzz. But no. It’s a show called GenZeroes. It’s a sci-fi set 200 years after an alien invasion of Earth. It’s written by the people who made that Van Helsing show you never saw, and stars Aleks Paunovic, whose top hit on IMDb is his role as Karate Dad in the 2012 film This Means War.

In all fairness, GenZeroes might be incredible. But when Netflix started to make original programming, it hired one of the world’s best directors and an Oscar-winning actor to remake the BBC’s beloved political drama House of Cards. It felt unmissable. This, meanwhile, feels eminently missable. It sounds like a B-grade Quibi show.

But who knows. There’s always a danger, when you write about emergent technology, of getting stuck on the wrong side of history. People wrote television off at first, and talking movies, and the internet. Even if GenZeroes is more an experiment than anything else, even if it’s just a weather balloon to test a new distribution model, there’s a chance that 20 years from now we’ll all be consuming television that we’ve bought with NFTs.

There is certainly momentum building behind the idea. Last year Ashton Kutcher launched Stoner Cats, an animated NFT comedy about some pot-smoking felines that featured the voice talents of Jane Fonda, Chris Rock and Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin. Was Stoner Cats any good? Sadly, the only way to watch it was to purchase an NFT token that cost 0.35 ethereum coins which – since that equates in real world terms to $1,130 – does seem a little steep for a five-minute cartoon about some cats. Which is a polite way of saying that I will die a violent fiery death before I ever find out.

GenZeroes is a little more affordable than Stoner Cats – if I’m getting this right, you can buy an access NFT for about $100, but that’s still roughly the equivalent of a year’s Netflix subscription, which is a hell of a punt for a show where every character looks like a Björk album cover. Very few people are willing or able to drop that sort of money on a television series, which makes me doubt the model’s viability. But maybe that’s not the point. People don’t buy NFTs so that they can enjoy well-crafted content. They buy it so they can eventually get incredibly rich. Perhaps that’s the true fate of GenZeroes: nobody will watch it, but somewhere down the line it’ll make three crypto bros even wealthier. Count me out.

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