- The NFT market was worth $41 billion at the end of 2021, catching up to the fine art market.
- Many traditional media companies have joined the gold rush and released NFTs in the past year.
- Some media companies, like TIME, have generated millions of dollars from their NFT releases.
The market for non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, ballooned to $41 billion last year, and media companies have been quick to join the gold rush.
Outlets like The New York Times, CNN, and TIME magazine have all released NFTs in the past year, with varying degrees of financial success.
“It’s a smart move from a revenue diversification perspective,” said Ana Milicevic, cofounder and principal of management consultancy Sparrow Advisers. “This type of product can resonate both with existing readers, increasing their lifetime value, as well as attract a whole new audience entering from a collectibles perspective.”
But there are lingering questions about the long-term viability of NFTs beyond early experimentation and how they can be integrated with media companies’ marketing and operations. “For example, will they be able to continue investing in NFT platform security if NFTs aren’t their main line of business?,” said Milicevic.
Insider identified nine traditional media companies that have been first-movers in the NFT space. Some of their NFT strategies are still in the early experimentation stage, while others are drawing millions of dollars in revenue.
The Associated Press
The storied news agency released its first NFTs in May 2021, to commemorate its 175th anniversary. The AP auctioned 10 “artistic representations” of some of its most iconic photographs, according to its website, which included a representation of US soldiers raising the American flag on Iwo Jima in 1945.
The AP worked with blockchain knowledge company Everypedia and NFT marketplace Opensea, as well as with digital artists, to create the one-of-a-kind pieces.
The Iwo Jima NFT is set to an original score composed by violinist Nick Kennerly, and includes rarely seen images taken by Joe Rosenthal, the original photographer. It also comes with a digital version of the first print, produced from Rosenthal’s negative, and Iwo Jima film and audio from the AP Corporate Archives, according to The AP.
Building on the success of its NFT drop, The AP released its own NFT marketplace in January, which features photos by current and former AP staff, together with “digitally enhanced depictions” of their work.
The NFTs will include metadata pointing to the time, date, location, equipment, and technical settings used for the shot, according to The AP’s announcement.
The news agency made headlines in November 2020 when it published its 2020 US election race calls on the blockchain. Using that data, it also released an NFT which sold for $185,000 — approximately 100 eth — according to its listing on Opensea.
However, it is not clear if the marketplace will be a long-standing feature. In an email, The AP said “the NFT marketplace is a pilot program that we are reviewing.”
In April 2021, The Atlantic released two NFTs of illustrations from its pandemic-related journalism. Each NFT is made up of 10 illustrations and corresponding article headlines, which appeared in both the magazine’s print edition and on the website, according to The Atlantic’s article announcing the auction.
However, at the time of publishing of this article, no bids had been accepted and activity on the auction stopped a year ago, according to the listing NFT marketplace Opensea.
The Atlantic declined to comment on the NFT drop in an email to Insider.
CNN’s NFT initiative, named “Vault,” features NFTs of live TV broadcasts during “memorable world events” throughout the broadcaster’s history, according to its website.
Users can browse the NFTs in an on-site marketplace. Example NFTs include 46 copies of a 20-second clip of a CNN broadcast projecting Biden’s 2020 election victory. All of the copies sold out, at a price of $500 each, according to its listing.
In an email to Insider, Jason Novack, CNN senior director of emerging products, said Vault is “an opportunity for digital collectors to own an artifact that is connected to a story that resonates with them – whether that be as a form of support, remembrance, or appreciation.”
While it is not clear how much CNN has raised so far from its marketplace sales, most of the NFTs listed have sold out, suggesting revenue in the region of a few hundred thousand dollars based on their auction prices.
“NFTs are unlocking entirely new possibilities that have not existed until very recently – including being a strong source of revenue,” Novack said.
The New York Times
When the auction closed at $560,000 for the NFT of a column written by NYT technology columnist Kevin Roose, he wondered why anyone would “spend the price of a high-end Lamborghini” on a picture of his words.
Compared to the $69 million raised at auction for an NFT of digital artist Beeple’s collage, to the $23 million spent on a CryptoPunk NFT, Roose’s auction proceeds may be seen as small change. But one of the bidders who participated in the auction believed that the NFT would “become a historical landmark,” while another commended the publication for “trying to interact with us as a community in an earnest and real way.”
—Foundation 🌐 (@foundation) March 24, 2021
3F Music, the Dubai-based music production company that placed the winning bid, told Roose it participated in order to “promote our business but also to support artists and the art market.”
Proceeds from the auction went to The New York Times’ Neediest Cases Fund.
The New York Times declined to comment.
Playboy first entered the NFT market with its NFT drop “Liquid Summer” in April 2021, which featured digital artworks by artist Slimesunday and sold out in under three minutes, according to the company.
Since then, Playboy has released further artist collaborations, art drops, and hosted events in Decentraland.
Its latest foray into NFTs, “Rabbitars”, features 11,953 unique 3D rabbit characters, available as NFTs. An example of generative NFTs, each Rabbitar varies in rarity and grants owners access to members-only events, merchandise, and artwork.
In a November 2021 earnings call, Playboy Group CEO Ben Kohn said Rabbitars were originally priced at 0.1953 eth, or roughly $900, and that the collection sold out “rapidly”, generating over $8 million in revenue.
In the last earnings call, Kohn said 2021 Q4 revenue was “bolstered” by the Rabbitars drop, and the group’s chief financial officer, Lance Barton, also noted that Playboy’s audience had spent $900 “for pure badge value”.
At the time of publication, the highest-priced Rabbitar sold for 10 eth around November 2021, when ethereum was trading close to $4,500, according to its OpenSea listing.
In an email to Insider, Rachel Webber, chief brand and strategy officer at Playboy Enterprises, expanded on the opportunities she thinks NFTs present for media companies. Those included the ability to provide special access and benefits to audiences by serving as a “ticket” or “key”, incorporating “engage to earn” mechanics to reward customers who are most loyal, allowing audiences to participate in creative development through DAOs, and providing NFTs as a certificate of authenticity alongside physical or digital items.
In March 2021, just as the NFT craze was picking up steam, digital publication Quartz sold what it claimed to be the first-ever NFT of a news article.
Quartz said the owner of a gallery specializing in NFTs paid one ethereum, worth about $1,800 at the time, to win the four-day auction.
—Quartz (@qz) March 17, 2021
The company said in an article about the sale of the NFT that proceeds from the sale would go to the Lauren Brown Fellowship at the International Women’s Media Foundation, which supports women journalists from underrepresented backgrounds.
Zach Seward, Quartz’s CEO, told Insider that while he used be optimistic about NFTs, he now sees worrying similarities between NFTs and initial coin offerings, the cryptocurrency industry’s equivalent to an initial public offering — many of which turned out to be largely worthless following the 2017 craze.
“I assume regulation will come out of this, the ‘flash in the pan’ stuff will go away and we’ll start to see what the durable use cases are,” Seward said. “[Building] community is definitely one of them, cross-site membership is another one, and maybe easier licensing processes.”
South China Morning Post
The SCMP’s first NFT collection, featuring the paper’s coverage of 1997 events like Hong Kong’s handover ceremony, sold out in less than two hours and brought in approximately $126,000, said the company.
The collection was made up of 1,300 “mystery boxes”, each containing five randomly selected NFT’s produced by the SCMP. Each box was priced at 97 FUSD, a US-dollar backed stablecoin issued on the Dapper Labs-built Flow blockchain, which aims to trade at or close to the value of the US dollar.
But ARTIFACTs by SCMP, as the collection is named, are part of a broader NFT strategy for the Hong Kong-based paper. In July last year it released a standardized metadata structure, named ARTIFACT, which aims to provide “a standard for recording accounts of history on the blockchain, ensuring immutability and decentralized ownership,” according to its whitepaper.
In practice, the SCMP is hoping for its metadata standard to be used to mint NFTs by institutions like museums, media publishers, and academic institutions. This would pave the way for an internationally accepted standard for recording events on the blockchain. That standard could essentially replicate MODS, or Metadata Object Description Schema, which is the standard used by libraries in cataloging collections, or CDWA, Categories for the Description of Works of Art, the framework for works of art, said the company in an email to Insider.
“We have realized that there was a deep desire by traditional news organizations to find a scalable way to build on the blockchain and to find new business models for their existing assets,” Gary Liu, SCMP’s outgoing CEO, told Insider.
In March, the SCMP spinned off the unit overseeing these NFT projects into its own firm, Artifact Labs. Gary Liu, the paper’s current CEO, will transition to overseeing the new company as its first CEO.
It might not yet be clear if fiat currency is indeed dead, displaced by cryptocurrency, as asked on TIME’s March 29th cover of last year. But there certainly was a fair amount of it going around during the auction for said cover’s NFT, which ended up going for 83 eth (approximately $131,000 at the time) according to its listing on NFT marketplace SuperRare.
The drop was the start of TIME’s investment into NFTs, which now includes four NFT collections, collectively named TIMEPieces, and an entire magazine issue available as an NFT, whose cover story features Vitalik Buterin, one of Ethereum’s cofounders.
According to a memo sent to staff announcing the launch of TIMEPieces, owners of the NFTs will be able to claim unlimited access to TIME.com through its 100th anniversary in 2023, by connecting their digital wallets. Other perks include exclusive invites to some of the company’s future in-person events.
The company said in an article its foray into Web3 has so far generated over $10 million in revenue.
USA Today (owned by Gannett)
USA Today released a one-of-one NFT, of which only one copy exists, in June last year, commemorating the 50th anniversary of astronaut Alan Shepard’s delivery of the first newspaper to the lunar surface. The NFT fetched $8,165, according to its listing.
Shepard transported a copy of TODAY — now Florida Today, part of the USA Today network — in 1971, on the Apollo 14 rocket.
The NFT points to a digital mosaic by visual journalist Pat Shannahan composed of 105,147 frames, and includes hundreds of photos, graphics, illustrations and newspaper front pages of the paper’s space coverage. Proceeds went to the Air Force Space and Missile Museum Foundation and The Gannett Foundation.
—USA TODAY (@USATODAY) December 1, 2021
USA Today’s parent company Gannett also announced in November last year a partnership with artist Peter Tunney to create original NFT collages using material from Gannett-owned newspapers, which were named “GRATTITUDE” and “LIBERTY”. The highest bidder of the “LIBERTY” NFT, whose auction started at $50,000, would also receive the original painting associated with the NFT, the company said on its website.
The “GRATTITUDE” painting was minted into 500 NFTs priced at $250 each, and a rendering of the original painting was printed as an insert for readers as a holiday gift.
Proceeds from the auction were equally split between The Sunny Center and the Gannett Foundation.
USA Today and Gannett did not respond to a request for comment.