Think about “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” It was more than a show, it was one of the internet’s first cultural juggernauts: Fans obsessed in chat rooms, they wrote fan fiction, they organized conventions.
People did that for free. They did it because they loved Buffy and they wanted to be part of the world. In some ways they even expanded that universe, imbuing the Buffy “brand” – the intellectual property – with added value.
But what if fans could be rewarded for their work?
“Buffy was amazing television, but think about all of the fan communities around the show,” says Lindsey McInerney, CEO of Sixth Wall, a Web3 entertainment startup, and former head of technology and innovation at Anheuser-Busch InBev. “I think Web3 will give people an opportunity to participate in some of that in a much larger way.”
McInerney is presenting at Investing in Digital Enterprises and Assets Summit (I.D.E.A.S.), CoinDesk's newest event revealing the most scalable marketplaces in the digital economy. Learn directly from entrepreneurs in leading innovation across digital assets, Web3, blockchain and the metaverse. Register here.
“Buffy” had a rabid fan base because it was entertaining. And entertainment is a key part of McInerney’s thesis.
“Entertainment will bring the first 100 million, 500 million people to Web3,” McInerney says. That is one reason she co-founded Sixth Wall, along with the actresses Mila Kunis and Lisa Sterbakov and others. They are already cranking out content, including the NFT (non-fungible token)-injected animated “Stoner Cats,” which stars Kunis (along with a wild cast that includes actor Chris Rock and Ethereum blockchain co-founder Vitalik Buterin). Other content that was produced in partnership with animated studio Toonstar is “The Gimmicks,” a raunchy animated wrestling comedy that lets the community help tell the story (here’s my in-depth profile), as well as a “digi-physical” comic book series called “Armored Kingdom,” and soon an upcoming crypto trading card game.
Her mission? “Sixth Wall is really building the future of entertainment,” McInerney says, and she likes that this future can be co-owned by the community.
“It’s always the fandoms and the communities that make any IP what it is,” she says. “Whether it's Batman, whether it's Buffy, whether it’s Bored Ape. It’s always the community.”
For IDEAS week, she shares why she’s betting on Web3 culture and why it really does come down to fun and games.
“Entertainment is always the first reason people show up,” McInerney says. “As humans, we’re inherent storytellers, we're culture creators. It makes us who we are.”
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
What is it about entertainment, specifically, that excites you about Web3?
When we moved from Web1 to Web2, what really drew people in was ways to entertain, and to be entertained, and to participate and hang with friends, right?
MySpace is a great example. You could provide the world with a version of your identity on the internet, and communicate who you were, and find other subcultures and groups that were like you. It made it really easy to share pictures and images. Web1 was really hard, right? You had to work to share something. Web2 became simple. You had Flickr, you had Blogger, Tumblr, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube. Those were the first big experiences of Web2.
Read more: Can Web3 Remake Hollywood?
Ask any investor, if they would love to have been an early, early investor in any of those companies, and they would say, "Hell, yeah." And guess what? That's what brought people to this next era of the internet and got people accustomed to the consumerization of software. The idea that software is so easy, it works like magic. That permitted the next era of companies – Airbnb, Uber, DoorDash, that kind of thing. It was the entertaining companies that opened the door for all these others.
Right. You couldn’t start with Uber.
Now if you think about Web3, if you think about the metaverse, the first experiences aren't going to be, like, ways to show up and do your taxes. That would be horrible. And I’m sorry if someone's building that, and I'm sure somebody is.
My belief is that entertainment will bring the first 100 million, 500 million people to Web3, to the metaverse, to the blockchain or whatever we wanna call it. Entertainment is always the first reason people show up. As humans, we’re inherent storytellers, we're culture creators. It makes us who we are.
How do you think traditional entertainment brands will embrace and harness Web3? Like, in theory, could Disney make a Web3 “Star Wars” project?
I like to think of it as joint upside. Because right now, it's such an unfair relationship, in some ways, between the fans and producers or creators. I think everybody's a creator, and especially fans.
Fans are some of the greatest creators. And it's a little bit of an unfair relationship when you have fans of “Star Wars” creating incredible side stories, and things that genuinely encourage the “Star Wars” community to become bigger and greater, and hungry for more things. It's an unfair relationship today. I think it's inevitable that we start to find ways to share upside with people in our fandoms, in our communities.
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It's my core belief that some of the biggest brands of Web3 will be co-owned with the community, that they'll be co-created, that they'll be decentralized in some capacity. We're still trying to figure out what all that means, right? But we’ll find better and more rewarding ways to have relationships with the people who really help drive the success of a brand.
You’ve spoken before about how at Sixth Wall, there’s a strong emphasis on story. Always story, story, story. Why is this so paramount?
I am very biased, but I do think that the story side of things, and the entertainment side of things, is what makes our team truly special. You know, Mila [Kunis] has been working in entertainment her whole life, and Lisa [Sterbakov] pretty darn close. Our creators wake up, they live, breathe and die entertainment and story.
As humans we're storytellers and we're creators. So you have to make technology work its way into that, versus technology being the story itself. Steve Jobs’ keynotes weren’t exciting because he was talking about the tech, he was telling the story. And God, we all bought into his world and his vision and the future. Nothing works without stories. This is not a B2B situation. We're not selling databases and software. Everything has to be a story.
What do you see as the biggest challenges to making Web3-powered entertainment a mainstream reality?
I certainly can't speak for everybody. But for me, I think it’s figuring out what IP rights in this space can look like. What does it legally mean to own a thing on the blockchain, really? Because that's not getting contested yet, right? Nobody's had to really go to a court of law and figure out what it means to hold a CryptoPunks or a Bored Ape, and what they can do with it.
Let’s say that someone buys into all of this. They’re with you. They think that Web3 entertainment will be massive. How, specifically, do you make money off this concept? How do you monetize?
This is stuff that I think about every day. But candidly, I think we're probably a bit early to share exact ideas on that. But something this big doesn't come along without there being tremendous opportunity to make money. You know, there's going to be money flowing in and out of this space.
In the spirit of focusing on the entertainment, the story, and the tech, we’re just really focused on trying to make incredibly fun experiences and build great communities.
Fair enough! But what’s your main pitch for an investor? How do you entice them?
There's lots of different ways to look at this. But consider the McKinsey stat that the metaverse will be worth $5 trillion by 2030. And we believe entertainment will drive a lot of these primary and early experiences. That’s why you want to be talking to entertainment companies and people who are focused on the entertaining side of things right now.
Because when Facebook was released, it was a very nascent, silly idea to take pictures of your friends from the local yearbook and stick them on the internet. Like, what a silly and ridiculous thing, and here we are. It's always the entertaining experiences that land first. You want the teams with the biggest and deepest experiences in that space. We certainly believe in a future where entertainment gets more exciting, and we’re fully focused on being a part of that.
Read more: Investing in Web3: Culture and Entertainment
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