Shep Ogden, CEO and Co-founder, Offbeat Media Group (Atlanta, GA)
Shep Ogden is CEO and Co-founder of Offbeat Media Group, an agency that helps some of the biggest brands in the world figure out how to use TikTok, Web3, and meme marketing to reach Gen Z customers. Originally, the college friends who started the agency owned and operated an Instagram account, Humor, which drew four million followers . . . and a lot of interest from brands that wanted to partner with the account.
The agency moved from working with memes to working with influencers, and from there, to developing virtual influencers. Today, the agency’s clients are typically the 10% of businesses that “are constantly looking for that new thing.”
When the partners realized the Humor account did not have an associated “face,” they decided to build one virtually. For the past few years, Offbeat has been working to establish “virtual influencers” to serve as identities behind “faceless” accounts. Virtual influencer development is what the agency is best known for today “and its clients are typically the 10% of businesses that “are constantly looking for that new thing.”
Shep says that today’s photorealistic virtual influencers “don’t look 100% real yet” and the technology to perfect them is extremely expensive. The other end of the spectrum, cartoony caricatures, does not work as well as stylized animated characters that “are not meant to trick you,” but to serve as characters “to tell a story” using “humanized responses and emotions.” The first of seven stylized virtual influencers the agency is creating for Nexus, named “Zero,” launched on Twitter in February and has drawn the interest of major investors.
The agency’s content studio creates a constant stream of content on the internet (mostly on places like TikTok and Snapchat) with close to a dozen shows that reach hundreds of millions of people monthly. By building virtual influencers and developing an NFT (nonfungible token) project for themselves, then iterating, testing, and innovating to improve their “product,” the agency demonstrates that it “gets” the new technology. The shows are monetized when platform partners direct ads their known audiences and share the revenues with Offbeat. The agency plans to sell NFTs to crowdsource virtual influencers’ story development, help “build community,” and further monetize the agency’s work.
Shep talked about the intersection of the virtual influencer industry, Web3, digital ownership, and NFTs at the 2022 South by Southwest Conference. After his presentation, “The Future of Influence Doesn’t Involve Humans,” he brought Nexus’s Zero up on stage, on screen, to converse, unscripted, with entrepreneur Mark Cuban.
Shep says the goals for his presentation were to:
- introduce the virtual influencer industry,
- establish Web3 for the audience,
- discuss how these two intersect,
- explain the agency’s work and the thought behind the Nexus universe growing around Zero, and
- show the stuff in action.
Shep can be found on LinkedIn as Shep Ogden. Offbeat Media Group is also on LinkedIn. The Offbeat-owned website, VirtualHumans.org, serves as the industry-leading website on virtual influencers. For those interested in the development of Zero, follow @ZeroFromNexus on Twitter.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m joined today live at South by Southwest, interactive, by Shep Ogden, CEO and Co-founder of Offbeat Media Group based in Atlanta, Georgia. Welcome to the podcast, Shep.
SHEP: Awesome, Rob. Thanks so much for having me. I’m having a blast.
ROB: It’s good to have you here. It’s always fun to have these people we know in Atlanta – we know each other, but we’re in Austin and getting together to talk. It’s all well, good, and fun, but why don’t you start off by telling us about Offbeat Media Group and what is your superpower? What’s your calling card?
SHEP: Our superpower has changed over the last few years. It’s been a really fun experience. I’d like to back up and give you the quick origin story. We started this business while we were in college. We owned and operated an account called Humor on Instagram with about four million followers. It was a really large meme and viral community, basically. It was something that we started for fun and then it turned into something that brands really wanted to partner with us on.
The next thing you know, we’re helping some of the biggest brands in the world figure out how to reach Gen Z and how to do meme marketing and how to tap into an account like Humor, but also hundreds of others and then thousands of others.
That led to us working with a ton of influencers, moving from just meme accounts to influencers, which then led to this whole new crazy idea, which I think is our superpower, of virtual influencers – taking this concept of an account like Humor that has millions of followers but doesn’t have a face attached to it and thinking about that, but doing it with a virtual face. Building an account, building a personality, building something that someone wants to follow, but giving an identity behind it – that’s the idea of a virtual influencer, and we’ve been doing that for the last few years. It’s definitely what we’re known for most now.
ROB: It might sound a little bit out there to the audience; is this an influencer who is obviously not real? Or do they appear real? How does that happen?
SHEP: That’s a great question. Sometimes it’s both. There’s photorealistic virtual influencers that look pretty real. They don’t look 100% real yet. There are ways to make it look 100% real, but it’s very, very expensive. What we like to do, and what we’ve seen work much, much better with the audience across the board is more of a stylized animated character.
We recently launched Zero for Nexus on Twitter, who you saw, I know. He’s a stylized character. While he has very humanlike responses and emotions, and when he talks to people you get that human feeling from him, you also know instantly that he’s not meant to be real. He’s not meant to trick you. He’s just here as a character to tell a story. I think that’s what works really well in this space.
ROB: And it sort of helps you get past the uncanny valley problem when they look stylized versus real. How do you go about thinking about who this character is, though? I suppose every influencer to an extent has to decide who their persona is, but you’re writing a script from nothing. Or is it rooted in something real?
SHEP: That’s a great question. With Zero, it’s not rooted really in anything real, but the way we counteract that and think about that is we’re including the community. A real influencer has a real backstory and has a real life, and you can’t really change their backstory, change their life. They are who they are. But with a virtual influencer, we’re writing lore for Zero. Who is Zero? What’s his background?
But we’re including the community that follows him now. The thousands of people following him and engaging with his content are helping us make this decision. We can do a top-level, “Hey, is it A, B, or C? What do you like better?” and then someone on our team will go deep into that concept and bring it to life when our community says, “We really like this direction.” We crowdsource it. We crowdsource the storytelling of these type of characters, which I think also gives the fans more satisfaction seeing them brought to life.
ROB: You mentioned hundreds and thousands of these accounts before on more of the Humor and accounts like that, the non-influencer side. How many influencers are you running? How many do you want to run?
SHEP: Virtual influencers?
SHEP: Right now, we’re running one. We launched in February, Zero. We did a lot of tests over the last few years of different types, like we talked about photorealistic, we talked about some more cartoony, but stylized is what we landed on. We built some really cool tech over the last 12 months that allows us to power these influencers in real time where you could have a conversation with them on video, and there’s no animator needed. It’s all happening from our studio in Atlanta.
So, we have Zero from Nexus and that’s our main one right now. Zero is part of the Nexus universe. Our approach towards an entertainment brand. We plan on fully decentralizing. I mentioned our community, community involvement, community governance, and helping us make decisions. We actually do plan on giving NFTs to the community, one day possibly a token where people can have ownership as well as governance of this overarching community.
Over the next 18 months in this entertainment brand, we plan on launching six more. So, there’ll be seven different virtual influencers or virtual creators within it that are engaging with each other, interacting with each other, and then telling a story is the biggest thing.
ROB: When you talk about a universe like this, you talk about an entertainment brand, what would be a parallel of something that’s already established that people might think about? Is this like a Fortnite ecosystem? Is this like a Roblox? What level does that brand rise to? Or is it like a sub-brand within Disney and you might have multiple of these universes?
SHEP: That. That’s spot on, that last one. The way we look at it is Offbeat Media Group as a company, we do have different arms for our business. We talked a bit about helping brands figure out TikTok and Web3 and memes. That’s our agency. We have a content studio that we haven’t talked a ton about, but we create a ton of content across the internet. We have nearly a dozen shows across the internet that reach hundreds of millions of people every month.
But with the Nexus universe, we built really cool tech to power that. That’s our first jump into building out this entertainment brand. We think about that as something like the Marvel Universe. That would be someone we really look up to. We can tell a story for decades to come and we can include the audience in helping us make some of the bigger decisions within that story.
But what’s really unique about it is because we have this tech that allows people to interact with our characters in real time on a Zoom call or on Twitch, they can do that with these characters. If you think about Marvel Universe and Captain America or Thor or someone like that, you’re not going to get content from Thor, but once every two years, once they release a movie. He’s not on social media. He’s not on Twitch. You can’t hop on a podcast with him. Maybe the actor, but not actually Thor, the character, because that would cost a ton of money for Marvel Universe to have Thor always on.
So that’s our concept. We can tell the story, a cinematic story, just as you would see with something like that, but you can also get day-to-day interaction with our characters.
ROB: You mentioned the agency off to the side; I know a lot of your vision is pulling forward on what you’re doing with this universe, but I think it might be easy for someone listening to actually underestimate that you have a substantive business. You’ve built a real deal agency and business underneath all of this. Someone might wonder, you’re building this science experiment; how do you pay the bills? What’s the day-to-day of what makes things operate well that allows you to also invest in the future?
SHEP: That’s a great question. You’re spot on. Our agency does really well. It’s growing. We have an awesome general manager, Michael Heaven, who has really taken charge and leadership of it. He came from one of the fastest-growing agencies of the last decade, was employee #7 at Social Chain, went to about 700, and then left and came and joined us after opening quite a few offices for them.
The way we look at it is – I’ll say first off, I’m in one of the few roles where being a 26-year-old CEO is a positive. People come to us and say, “Yeah, this guy probably gets it. He probably understands memes. He probably understands TikTok and is pretty much a pro.” Now, over the last couple years, we’ve been doing virtual influencers and we’ve been looking at NFTs and whatnot. Same thing there. People are like, “Okay, they probably get it. They’re a pretty young and innovative team.”
But then we’re also showcasing to people that we do get it. We’re building virtual influencers for ourselves. We’re building an NFT project for ourselves. We’re creating content nonstop on the internet, like I mentioned earlier, with the content studio. Both of those fuel interest in what we’re doing. We’re not your typical agency that just does services for others; we’re iterating, we’re testing, we’re innovating every single day, like “How do we do this better for ourselves?”
Then once we build that playbook for ourselves, we have a team that’s ready to take that playbook and do it for brands. So that’s why we have both of these. In the day-to-day, we’re innovating on content that we can do internally. Once we find something’s working, we ship it over to the agency and we’re like, “Hey, no one else is doing this yet, but we just had it work really, really well for us. Let’s roll this out.”
ROB: How much of the media that you produce ends up being something that you can integrate a client/a brand into versus how much of it is a proof of capability that serves as marketing? Do you bring the brands into some of these, your Humor channels, and some of that? Or is it all “We saw that you could do this, now please do this for us but under our umbrella”?
SHEP: It depends on the asset. With Humor, on Instagram, the one with about four million followers, we integrate brands into that all the time. We create memes, we partner with comedians, we partner with viral influencers, and we can take their branded content or we can make a branded meme and integrate it into this community really, really easily.
With the shows – I mentioned we have about a dozen shows – most of those are on places like TikTok and Snapchat. We don’t integrate brands into those. The way that works is we are partnered with the platform, so we’re making money from programmatic advertising. When someone’s watching our show, Snapchat knows the audience watching the show. They’re running ads, and then we have a rev share deal with them. So, we don’t have to go sell ads for that stuff.
We’re not really trying to turn into a production company for brands. Most of the stuff we’re producing is either lightweight or partnered with an influencer. And then on the virtual influencer front, first and foremost, we’re building a community. We expect that community to be a part of what we’re doing. We plan on selling them NFTs. We plan on giving them governance of what we’re building. We can monetize it through content.
But with Zero and the virtual influencers, that is a perfect branded integration play, too. We’ve done a great job with his lore, where he’s got a portal in his universe that he can send things through one day, but things can already be sent to him. For example, Samsung sent him their new most recent phone, and it’s now his new most favorite thing. He’s constantly hopping on a selfie video, and it’s always with a Samsung. That’s a way that we split how we think about branded versus not.
ROB: How did they find you? Or how did you find them? This is an experiment for a brand.
SHEP: Yeah. I was talking to somebody yesterday and they talked about how brands are typically in a 70%, 20%, 10% kind of mindset where that 10% is the ones that are constantly looking for that new thing. We usually work with those 10%.
We own and operate a website called VirtualHumans.org. It is the industry-leading website about all things virtual influencers. There’s nothing else out there like it. Three years ago, two and a half years ago, when we got really excited about this space, we saw that everyone was writing about it from a journalist standpoint, but there was nowhere to actually learn about the industry. There was always the same one, two, three virtual influencers mentioned, yet here we are finding 50, finding 60. It’s like, why can’t I find anywhere to actually learn about this industry? How are the players in it? What are they doing? How are they doing it?
So, we build that website for the industry, and that has connected us with major investors, major brands, major partners, every team in the space. Anyone interested in the space typically comes to us, inbound, wanting to network.
ROB: There’s a recurring theme here. We see you continue to build a platform that proves what you’re able to do, that people want to be a part of, whether that’s on some of the meme accounts, whether that’s on Virtual Humans, now with Zero. Where did that disposition towards building content platforms come from? You guys started when you were in school. Were you in film? Were you in some sort of creative endeavor? Was it just a natural, organic “this is where social is now” and who you are demographically?
SHEP: I think it was fun for all of us. Bailey, Christopher, and myself are the main three day-to-day partners. We also have Kevin Planovosky, who’s an advisor of ours and an early partner. All of us went to the University of Georgia. But specifically, Bailey, Christopher, and I all had our own Instagram accounts that weren’t ourselves. Christopher ran a social media app for a while that had hundreds of thousands of users, and then when that ended up not working out, he pivoted to social media accounts and had tens of thousands of followers.
I had this idea that you could – I owned a lot of states on Instagram, like Alabama, West Virginia, Iowa, South Carolina, and then cities and some countries, even. People just started following them, and it gave me authority because I owned the state username. It was almost as if I was the state. So, it gave me a lot of authority. I just thought it was really cool and I was learning really quickly how to gain tens and then hundreds of thousands of followers, and then met Bailey, who was doing the same thing. He was making memes. He was just posting memes and making memes.
We were like, man, we think we could make money doing this, like real money. That’s when we all partnered up with some experiments, and the next you know, it actually turned into a real business. Something that started as something cool to us.
ROB: It’s lightning in a bottle with some people. Kevin’s a former guest on the podcast as well. Recorded that one live and in person at the Vert Office. That was pretty fun.
Did any or all of you come from any entrepreneurial background? Was there a seed planted early for you?
SHEP: Yeah, great question. Bailey has such a unique story. I wish he was here to tell it. Really, his origin story was he wanted to get a truck when he was 16 and he wanted a nice one, and his parents told him they’d pay for half of it. But if he wanted a nice one, he was going to have to figure out how to make the other half. He was 14-15 years old with no real money, and he started flipping cards or flipping sunglasses or something on eBay, and then heard about this guy in high school making real money, thousands of dollars, with Twitter accounts.
So, he went and used all of his money from selling sunglasses and flipping other items to buy a couple really big Twitter accounts and start monetizing that. Next thing you know – he didn’t realize he was becoming an entrepreneur, but he did. It just snowballed from when he was 14 years old up to moving into memes and all across the board. So, he had a really cool story.
I think Christopher found himself in a somewhat similar boat, really just wanting to build something special.
And then my background is my family was a family of small-town entrepreneurs. My dad is probably the biggest hustler I know. I grew up and we owned small rentals, a car wash, a little shop, all the kinds of things like that in a small town of 10,000 people. I loved talking about business with him, and I’m 7-8 years old. I’m like, “How’d work go today?” and I’m asking him all about it.
I think that set my foundation really, really strong. I knew I didn’t have to go and work for The Man. That’s how I learned it from my dad. He gave me a story where he went and worked for a year or two at a factory, basically, and his dad, who was also an entrepreneur, told him, “You’re wasting your time.” Which I don’t think is necessarily a fair characterization, but he left and he went and started his own business and he was much better off for that. So that really inspired me. I always knew that I could do that as well, like it was a possibility. I got to see that firsthand as a possibility. And then I studied entrepreneurship nonstop for most of my high school and college career and then jumped in.
ROB: It’s three very different paths, and of course, Bailey’s reminds me – quite often, the entrepreneurs are the folks that were flipping candy or sunglasses or you name it in high school, and they end up starting something later.
I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the session that you’ve been here at SXSW to present. Did it yesterday, had a special guest up on stage with you. The session was “The Future of Influence Doesn’t Involve Humans.” What should people who weren’t there know about it?
SHEP: I’ll say first off, I think we chose a little clickbait-y title to get people in there. Yes, while we were showing a virtual human, which technically isn’t a real human, there was a massive team working on that of all humans. So yeah, we had Mark Cuban join us. It was a really great experience. We got to really talk about the virtual influencer industry, talk about this new world of Web3 and digital ownership and NFTs and how this stuff’s going to intersect and tie into virtual influencers and how we think about using that ideology. Web3 ideology is a tool to let this community actually have ownership and governance of the virtual influencers we’re building.
And then after we explained what this stuff was – we gave a quick definition of a virtual influencer, but it is a first-person identity built on the internet for the sake of influence. Could be for a friend, could be for yourself, could be an artist, whatever it is, but it is a first-person computer-generated character that thinks and acts as if they’re their own person. That’s a virtual influencer.
Once we got through that, we’ve got to actually bring Zero up on stage, onscreen, and have him start talking to Mark Cuban and talking to us and engaging with the audience. That was I think one of the coolest experiences we’ve had as a company so far because so much of what we’ve been working on, like this idea that you can build an influencer that can engage with the world, was shown yesterday.
I think the most unique thing about it was that nothing was pre-scripted. For anyone listening, typically to do what we did yesterday, to have a fully animated character engaging with someone and actually have it look real, you have a team of animators that are doing it in postproduction. They’re keyframe animating this stuff. But all of our stuff, all the tools that we’ve built, do all of it in real time. So yes, we have someone to motion capture, but that output looks crystal clear.
ROB: Yeah, it was crisp. It worked. The technology worked. I was hoping you didn’t have to reboot Zero at any point. But I think had some doubts when you started doing the session, and when you’re interacting over Zoom with this character. I think people still felt like it might have been scripted, but you shared with me you didn’t even know what he was going to say and how he was going to introduce himself. Little worrisome even there, little fake robot voice just to creep everybody out.
SHEP: Yeah, he came in – Zero’s on Twitter as @ZeroFromNexus and everyone keeps calling him an AI. So sometimes when he joins in on a Zoom, he loves messing with everyone and pretending to be a robot, and then he says, “I’m just kidding!” and he starts talking to you like a normal person. I think the crowd loved that.
But yeah, we planned a lot of the conversation prior that we’d be having with Mark and talking about the industry, and then we planned to have Zero give us a tour of his bunker, but that was all free-flowing conversation. There was nothing scripted. I think even Mark was like, “How much of this is preplanned?” It’s like, zero. He starts asking Zero questions, and Zero’s just responding off the cuff. He just had all of it off the top of his head.
ROB: It sounds a little bit like improv, really. You know the beats maybe that you might go through in a given skit. You might’ve talked some topics, you might’ve done some practice, but you didn’t practice what you were going to say; you just know the plot points you’re going to follow.
SHEP: Exactly. The way we typically plan conversations like that – if we’re giving a presentation, that’s one thing; we’ll know almost to a ‘T’ what we’re going to say. Christopher, who was part of the SXSW pitch yesterday for us, knew exactly what he was going to say.
For something like this, we had high-level goals. We had talking points under each goal, but goal #1, establish the virtual influencer industry to the audience. Goal #2, establish Web3 to the audience. And then goal #3, start telling them how these two intersect; goal #4, start talking about how we’re doing that and how we think about it with the Nexus universe we’re building with Zero. And then goal #5, actually show the stuff in action. So, we had high-level, “Cool, we’ve got an hour; we’re going to show this stuff.” Mark Cuban is an investor of ours, and he has a really impressive knowledge of exactly what we’re doing, so he was able to go off and riff on it with this as well.
ROB: Yeah, he probably gives ideas from the stage sometimes where someone’s taking a note and being like, “Let’s put that in the mix too.”
ROB: While this entire technical demo was going on – we’re trying to picture what’s going on behind the scenes – you have a whole studio set up in Atlanta that you’ve alluded to. I’m trying to draw metaphors. Actually, is there a way people can see the session yesterday or something like it, some reasonable recording of something like that to get a taste? Where can they go see something like that to start to understand what the experience is like?
SHEP: We’re going to be on Twitch soon with Zero from Nexus. But right now, Twitter. If you look up @ZeroFromNexus, spelled how it sounds –
ROB: With a ‘Z,’ not with an ‘X’ if you’re feeling strange or fancy.
SHEP: Right. You can see all of his content that he posts right now. And all of his stuff is done in real time. Because it’s posted on Twitter, we do have an editor that can cut pieces off and whatnot, but the actual content production takes as long as that clip takes. We’re able to move cameras around in real time. We click a button, the camera’s in a different spot. We’re able to teleport him around. We’re able to move him all around the bunker. He lives in a bunker. [laughs]
ROB: For now.
SHEP: Yeah, for now. But we’re able to do all of that in real time. I think his Twitter is probably the best case to see that right now.
ROB: Who all is involved today? Is there a voice actor? Is there a body actor? Are they the same person? Virtual cameraman? Is somebody pushing magic buttons for teleporting? Who’s involved in making a Zero moment right now?
SHEP: There’s a voice actor that’s also the motion capture artist. And then we have our head of content, who’s also helping go deep in the content we’re producing. We have our tech director, which is typically the one processing those buttons like, “Cool, we’re about to teleport, we’re about to get a new camera scene.” So yeah, it’s a pretty lean team of about three fully focused on character, and then we have a couple more in the studio, typically, that are supporting and working on things. To have one of these characters up and running, though, it takes two to three people.
ROB: It’s amazingly in real time. I could almost picture different places – I imagine a lot of people would want to use this – you could imagine having an Instagram live with Gollum from Lord of the Rings. You could do that, right? Maybe not on the rendering technology right now; maybe that level of realism isn’t quite real time. But it’s within reach. You can get there from here.
SHEP: Yeah, we could. Right now, even. It all comes down to – the system we’ve built can render at that high level. Photorealistic humans isn’t there, but something like a very high-end character rendered in real time, absolutely. You break that uncanniness because it’s not a human. Once it’s a human, that stuff gets hard.
But yeah, that’s spot on. Gollum we could bring to life. Instagram Live is kind of complicated because you have to do it from a phone, but you could bring it alive on Twitch. You bring it alive on anything from a computer that can do live. We could have a very high-end character engaging and talking to you. Maybe giving his backstory or going deeper into the lore of Lord of the Rings, in the Gollum example. Going deeper into that lore and almost giving you his personal experience. That’s definitely possible with this technology.
ROB: That’s fascinating. I do want to see it, but I also want to pull forward to where you’re thinking some of this stuff goes in terms of the Web3 technology. I think some of it was alluded to during the session yesterday, this idea of even potentially establishing a DAO, these digital autonomous organizations, around a character or even parts of the universe governance to make decisions. How wide of decisions do you think you’ll let people make for these characters and this universe?
SHEP: That’s a really interesting question. We think about this a lot, because there’s been nothing out there long enough to really see what the right answer is. The way we’re thinking about it is at Offbeat, we’re the creative lead. We went down the rabbit hole of like “What if we gave full control to the community out the gate?”, but there’s a lot of examples where that hasn’t necessarily been the best thing for the long term of the IP. Lots of times the community will do what’s coolest or funniest or whatever it is right now, today, and then they might saturate the brand or make the wrong decision for the brand in the long term.
So, the way we view it is we have a really, really creative team, and we can come up with concepts before we completely flesh them out and build them out. Then we can include the audience on helping us make decisions. This is where it starts. We want the audience to make sure that they’re included in all the decisions we’re making about the universe we’re building. They’ll have to own an NFT for the community to actually have that governance and help us make those decisions. But in the future, it could move to be full DAO-driven, where maybe we have a creative council at the top of the DAO that almost has a final say-so, but everyone on that council is voted for by the DAO and then they’re making all the decisions, where maybe 51% can vote and say “Okay, great, this is Zero’s new background. This is the content we’re producing this month. This is the next character we’re launching. This is what they look like.”
Right now, it’s going to be very – what’s that “Bandersnatch” off of Netflix? It was like “choose your own adventure.”
ROB: Yeah, that was a Black Mirror offshoot.
SHEP: Yeah. I don’t like referring to us as Black Mirror, now that I think about it. [laughs] But it is very “choose your own adventure” right now. They’re part of the adventure we’re building. But in the future, it might be “build your own adventure from scratch.” Like, “Here, community, what do you want from scratch?” It’s definitely possible.
ROB: Right. There’s different variations. There’s an idea where you could have the contract govern what kind of decisions can be made and all sorts of different directions like that. Interestingly, I think there’s a long-term alignment. I guess an absolutist might say, “Give us full control,” but there’s an alignment where, I assume, when you’re thinking about these tokens, they’re going to be re-sellable. You’re going to get a slice of every transaction when it’s resold. So your interest is still to align to an audience that wants to own and increase the value.
SHEP: Yeah, spot on. The one thing I’ll say is a lot of people that own these might not be IP experts. I have been chatting with a lot of IP experts that are from the world of Disney, from the world of Marvel, from the world of Star Wars, that helped build these brands and manage this decade-long or multi-decade-long IP and how they think about expanding and monetizing it. They’re worried about some of these brands.
I own a Mutant Ape from the Bored Ape Yacht Club, which is a big NFT community. We were talking about that because every single person that owns a Mutant or a Bored Ape owns the full IP rights to do whatever they want with it. So now there are so many companies and so many individuals creating content with that IP.
It’s just going to be really interesting over the next seven years. Does that saturate it? Does it keep that pristine, exclusive feel if everyone’s creating content around it with totally different narratives that have nothing to do with each other? Or does it just become almost like an avatar? Which is still cool and still valuable, but it might not become an entertainment brand.
Pirates of the Caribbean is a great example. It was Disney’s biggest hit for about a decade. Now it’s nothing. They’re not producing anything new. It was their biggest hit and every couple of the years, new Pirates of the Caribbean something, over and over and over and over, and it got saturated really quickly. That’s what we’re really cautious of. As we think about building a lot of these characters with similar style for our universe, we want to include the community in it, but if everyone could do exactly what we were doing, then it would be everywhere and it might be too saturated and people would find it less cool.
ROB: Do you see a case to be able to turn an Ape into a model in the Nexus universe? Do you see that possibility of “Verify your NFT, we’ll spin up a model, you dial the knobs on how it moves, how it talks”?
SHEP: Probably not for the Nexus universe, but the tech’s there. We might bring a Bored Ape into the Nexus universe that’s interacting, but I don’t think it’ll be just for anyone to join us. We’re looking at building out our own avatars for the Nexus universe that have our own aesthetic. So not only do you own an NFT that helps give you governance, but then also you’re following these characters like Zero, and you’re engaging with these characters, and now we’re saying, “Hey, here’s an avatar that has similar aesthetics that you can own and control.”
We could include them in our overarching lore, or in their day-to-day, they could use this as their own avatar, their own V-tuber. They could join in a Zoom call and instead of being themselves, they’re their avatar. That’s what we’re looking at.
ROB: Very interesting. Definitely plenty to watch in this area. Shep, when people want to keep an eye on what you all are doing, obviously they could follow thousands of Instagram accounts, but where should they go for the center of gravity – for Offbeat, maybe for Virtual Humans? Where are the coordinates?
SHEP: I’ll say three areas. And like you said, it seems to change, but add myself on LinkedIn, Shep Ogden. I post a lot about what we’re doing on LinkedIn. Or Offbeat’s LinkedIn is another good source that really talks about it. VirtualHumans.org is not necessarily always about us; it’s actually usually not about us, but it’s about the industry as a whole. So, people really curious about the industry should be on the news later, they should be following the website. Third, if you’re really curious about how we’re bringing Zero to life, @ZeroFromNexus on Twitter is definitely the place to be.
ROB: Fantastic and fascinating. Thank you for narrating us through the intersection of the future, but grounded in stuff that’s valuable right now. I think that’s a really fascinating place to live in this Web3 world where some stuff feels kind of out there, and you’re bringing it to reality and making a real business of it. Congratulations on everything. We’ll keep an eye on it.
SHEP: Thanks so much, Rob.
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