The Stoner Cats Are Out of the Bag
A Closer Look at a New Model for Content
Cryptokitties, Nyan Cat, and those cute little cat videos on YouTube have shown us one truth. The internet loves cats. “Stoner Cats” from producer, Mila Kunis, combines non-fungible tokens with whimsical animation. Now that the first episode of has been released and the NFT’s are circulating it’s time for a closer look.
The show is a comedy about pot-smoking cats and features the voices of Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, and Jane Fonda as well as the regular guest appearance of Ethereum founder, Vitalik Buterin. There was a scramble for the first NFT offerings from Stoner Cats in late July. The show’s production team raised $8M during the 35 minutes that their NFTs were available to mint. The conceptual experiment is now being tested in (frothy) market conditions.
The feline NFTs were available to mint on 26 July for 0.35 ETH, which was around $750 USD at the time. Evidently, this was no barrier to entry for many — the cats sold so quickly they briefly clogged the Ethereum network causing transactions to fail and gas prices to rise sharply. The proceeds from these sales now become the funding for the show’s production. A neat new model for television production.
“It brings ownership back to the artist and cuts out the middleman” Mila Kunis on the Conan O’Brian Show, June 2021
Because Stoner Cats are being traded on the secondary market, we don’t have to make a judgement on their value — the market tells us what they’re worth. And it is enough to make a quirky cartoon. No doubt they could drop NFTs every day for a month and make millions more. But will they still be able to do that even if the show’s 5-minute episodes are no good?
Is Stoner Cats a Concept or a Show?
It’s both. Understandably, the first episode, “Awakenings,” was more about setting up a premise rather than diving into an involved plotline. Mrs Stoner (voiced by Fonda) is an elderly pothead who lives with her five cats in a suburban American home. On this particular evening, her medical marijuana affects the cats, who suddenly find they can walk and talk like humans. It was entertaining without making an impression.
More to the point though, only people who have a Stoner Cat in their Ethereum wallet could unlock and watch the episode. Ownership of the NFT enables viewing of all future episodes of Stoner Cats so there is an exclusivity to it, which brings value. The NFT supply is capped, according to the roadmap on stonercats.com.
Creating the Buzz
As a part of Mila Kunis’ promotion of her pet project she went on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. A Hollywood A-lister talking about non-fungible tokens on the long running US talk show is about as mainstream as it gets. Her appearance happened to come at a time when television when O’Brien, himself, was coming to a landmark moment.
A few days after Kunis’ appearance, O’Brien announced he was retiring from the show on the back of poor figures. Viewers had slid down to less than 200K per episode from 750,000 in 2010. By online metrics he is still very popular though; his YouTube channel has 8.32M subscribers and hundreds of videos with over 20M views. Because those shorter videos feature top celebrities, they will continue to attract clicks for years to come. Online content is stealing the market. For TV execs, however, YouTube doesn’t pay the way television advertising used to.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like YouTube?
Stoner Cats has already run into the same problem that Hollywood has been having for years — illegal streaming. Within hours of its release, “Awakenings” was up on YouTube and could be viewed without permission. It isn’t so exclusive, after all. Presumably this hurts the business model.
The NFT-driven concept might work better with a live event. An animation is not time sensitive so a YouTube stream any time after the official release is fine. Not so with sport, for example. Sport is best enjoyed live and loses its appeal beyond that. Unlocking an interactive live event with an NFT may work better.
Recently, Stoner Cat holders could unlock a live Q&A with Ash Brannon as he explained the animation on the show. Although he worked on Toy Story 2, it was still of limited appeal. An animated series, at this point in time, does not lend itself to a live experience.
If people are happy to stream Stoner Cats illegally there is no rational reason for a correlation between the NFT’s value and the quality of the show.
Stoner Cats Holders Can Vote on Storylines
A perk that actually is exclusive to Stoner Cats holders is the ability to vote. Voting rights will be used to direct the storylines of the series. As yet it’s not clear how much participation holders will have in the creative process. Again, because it’s an animation, the results of voting cannot be realised immediately and so the relationship between creator and NFT holder might be less satisfying than a live event directed by NFT holders.
“Is this all a little fuzzy? For sure. The most interesting parts of the future usually are.” The Stoner Cats Manifesto
If Stoner Cats becomes a well-loved show, the accompanying NFTs will presumably rise in value, regardless of illegal streaming. So far prices have remained stable, albeit, with some spikes in the first days. It depends on what the team can deliver over the coming months.
On a grander scale though, whether the show is good or not is somewhat irrelevant. The idea is out there and eventually there will be a series with the same model that proves it works. Stoner Cats has the potential to create a more direct relationship between the artist and the audience. As their manifesto observes, Stoner Cats “may only be a sweet, small show about a woman and her cats, but maybe it will light the way for something very big to follow. Maybe the Stoner Cats are the thin edge of the wedge on a whole decentralised platform for passion projects.”