TV studios are exploring how they can use NFTs to invigorate their legacy IP. Greg Larson how Doctor Who and Thunderbirds are being given a new lease of life in web3. For Doctor Who, it’s a chance to grow the world’s longest sci-fi series. For Thunderbirds, NFTs are breathing new energy into a show that stopped rolling in the 1960s.
For most of the world, the heat around NFTs has dwindled since their dizzying heights in late 2021. But as hype wanes, notable brands in the entertainment industry, fashion, and beyond are exploring how the technology can revitalise and augment intellectual property that has begun to accumulate dust. From beloved TV franchises to luxury clothing lines, these brands may find that NFTs are their best tool for re-engaging consumers and bringing new life to their existing IP.
Tony Pearce is the co-founder and CEO of Reality+, a web3 studio that has created activations with the likes of Doctor Who and Thunderbirds. He argues that, when NFTs provide original utility, they can help IP owners access younger consumers. “A lot of these companies have huge fanbases and a ton of existing IP, but they’re struggling to find new ways of engaging those fans and bringing life to their franchises,” he explains. “By introducing NFTs, they’re able to give fans a new way to interact with their favourite characters and keep the franchise relevant.”
Pearce knows first-hand how this new brand strategy can play out. Working with the BBC to launch Doctor Who, the world’s longest running sci-fi TV series, into web3, Reality+ introduced a new line of NFT trading cards, featuring characters and scenes from the series. The Doctor Who: Worlds Apart digital trading card game allows players to travel through space and time, build a deck of 50 cards using a combination of companions, creatures, objects, and more from all corners of the universe, and engage in intense player vs player battles.
The BBC recognised several key advantages for making these digital trading cards, 2 million of which have already sold on the Reality+ marketplace. Firstly, each NFT card is a verifiably unique digital asset, which allows fans to gain a sense of ownership in the Doctor Who universe, which was first seen on screen in 1963. And whilst that in itself could be done on a centralised app, the advantage of blockchain is that it gives fans the opportunity to buy and sell coveted cards on third-party marketplaces like OpenSea, as well as letting other organisations integrate the data about who owns what into their own applications, giving players further opportunities beyond playing Worlds Apart. Overall, as NFTs, these digital trading cards permit fans to play the trading card game whilst holding their very own slice of the Doctor Who universe.
“By introducing NFTs, they’re able to give fans a new way to interact with their favourite characters and keep the franchise relevant.”— Tony Pearce, Co-founder, Reality+
With Thunderbirds, Reality+ are taking their web3 ambitions to higher heights. In many ways, it also represents a starker challenge. Whereas Doctor Who continues to enjoy cultural popularity, particularly in the UK, Thunderbirds ran for just two seasons in the 1960s, remaining an admittedly fondly-remembered footnote in British pop culture. Leveraging the Thunderbirds IP owned by ITV, Reality+ built a Thunderbirds metaverse with The Sandbox, in an effort to take an old creative property and accelerate it into the 21st century.
Taking inspiration from the TV show, NFT holders can join the Thunderbirds International Rescue Club, which is dedicated to saving lives through a series of daring missions, executed using a fleet of futuristic vehicles set in the 2060s. Holding a Thunderbirds NFT will grant owners access to a unique section of the Sandbox metaverse, where players can participate in new rescue missions and explore the Thunderbirds’ base on Tracy Island in a way that has never been seen before.
However, as Pearce notes, success in NFTs is not just about capitalising on a recognisable brand; collections like Nickelodeon have not only failed to capture the imagination of their community in the wake of poorly thought through collections, but tarnished the brand. As with any activation initiative, it is critical to understand the audience in order to create a seamless and fulfilling integration between the NFTs themselves and the overall franchise experience.
In the case of Worlds Apart, the NFTs not only provide fans with collectibles, but those collectibles also enhance the gameplay by providing bonuses and special abilities. This highlights the importance of creating an ecosystem that is not based on financial gain, but, rather, providing actual value and enjoyment for players.
Using NFTs in branding is not without its challenges. NFTs present brands with unique technological and cultural hurdles in creating viable NFT projects. Brands must either develop in-house expertise or find an external team to fill knowledge gaps in web3 promotion, blockchain infrastructure, and understanding how to design truly innovative NFT experiences.
“NFTs have the potential to change the way we interact with our favourite franchises.”— Tony Pearce, Co-founder of Reality+
Further, understanding the cultural landscape and what succeeds in web3 is a skillset all of its own. Brands that invest in building internal competency in these areas will be better equipped to create engaging experiences in web3. However, it will not always be necessary or financially viable for brands to host all of those skills in-house. Outsourcing to experienced studios can be a lucrative entrée into the world of web3, as well as an effective strategy longer term.
In order to harness the full potential of NFTs, brands must delve deeper than a cursory understanding of blockchain technology and marketplaces, all while staying true to their original IP. As Tony Pearce puts it, “NFTs have the potential to change the way we interact with our favourite franchises — franchises that have been around for decades — and make them new again.”