[Herald Interview] ‘Blockchain can take on shady side of entertainment industry’

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : Feb 12, 2018 - 16:00
Updated : Feb 12, 2018 - 17:01

At the core of the success of K-pop and Korean drama series are record labels and management agencies that allow their artists’ work to be distributed to global audiences and help them earn star status through vigorous marketing.

The commanding presence of such intermediaries in creating world-famous artists here may have proved successful so far, but it has also come with adverse effects and inefficiencies, such as frequent claims of artists being exploited or excessive financial burdens of agencies in training aspiring artists.

A blockchain-powered decentralized platform can offer an alternative to the current system for the sake of both parties, by helping empower an individual artist and making local agencies more cost-effective, Zach Lebeau, chief executive and co-founder of SingularDTV, said in an interview with The Korea Herald during his recent brief stay in Seoul. 

Zach Lebeau, chief executive at SingularDTV (Son Ji-hyoung/The Korea Herald)

“(Blockchain) would raise the standard overnight in the K-pop industry here,” the 42-year-old Lebeau said. “It takes a visionary in the K-pop industry to do it, but the danger is if they don’t do it, they could lose the industry.”

The key to empowering artists is to bring the revenue flow of intellectual properties under the control of the individual artists, instead of intermediaries. Artists will be able to have their IPs represented and protected by issuing encrypted tokens.

One example is a token called GRMTK, issued by a musician using the stage name Gramatik, since November 2017. The copyright of his works is guaranteed on GRMTK, and those buying the tokens have a fair share to the rights of the music he has created. Gramatik made the token public through a platform called Tokit, which is within SingularDTV’s ecosystem.

Gramatik‘s works will be on Ethervision, a platform where users can access the artists’ content. It is set for launch in the second half of this year,

“The No. 1 thing we are building is a rights management system that gets rid of the need of gatekeepers and intermediaries.” said Lebeau, the head of the Zurich-based operator of the decentralized entertainment platform created with Ethereum. Ethereum is a public blockchain designed to create a computer protocol to facilitate, verify and enforce the performance of a contract, or smart contract.

Such tokens by artists cannot be purchased using fiat money, like the US dollar or the Korean won. Users have to pay using either SNGLS, a token by SingularDTV that was initially offered from 2016, or ether, issued on Ethereum blockchain.

Encrypted virtual tokens by the musicians or producers will trade on SingularX, a cryptocurrency exchange within the SingularDTV ecosystem, which is undergoing an open beta test period.

Unlike coins, tokens can verify the copyright of the artist, as they contain multiple layers of information beyond financial information, Lebeau said.

Lebeau expected that Korea could be one of the next destinations for his business in Asia, following China, Japan and Hong Kong. He added that some Korean artists have been in talks to list their work on the SingularDTV blockchain.

But SingularDTV’s business entrance into Korea does not mean a challenge against the powerhouses leading the K-pop and drama industry, he said, as the decentralized platform will not only give artists a chance to be independent, but also help cut the costs of talent management agencies in the long run.

“A lot of artists don’t want to deal with this responsibility of business in blockchain,” Lebeau said. “This is where the record companies or management companies, intermediaries can come on to the blockchain to help, because the distribution cost and the way of doing it is so expensive, while blockchain makes it cheaper.”

Zach Lebeau, chief executive at SingularDTV (Son Ji-hyoung/The Korea Herald)

Formerly a globetrotting scriptwriter, musician and filmmaker, Lebeau in 2013 first met Kim Jackson, formerly involved in a film production industry, and began to lay out a concept of a decentralized entertainment industry.

At around 12:30 p.m. Monday, SingularDTV‘s token SNGLS was the 148th-largest out of over 1,200 cryptocurrencies -- including coins and tokens -- by market cap, worth $82.9 million, according to global coin price tracker CoinMarketCap.

Sixty percent of the SNGLS tokens are open to the public, Lebeau said. The other 40 percent of the tokens belong to four co-founders -- Arie Levy-Cohen, Joseph Lubin, Jackson and Lebeau -- and the encrypted assets will remain frozen for two years in an Ethereum-powered “vault contract” until October 2018.

“We wanted to show people that we weren’t doing this to get rich quick and it wasn’t a pump and dump.”

Lebeau stressed it’s up to Korea on whether to embrace the blockchain platform to cope with what remains in the dark now.

“We are not going to come and plant our flag,” he said. “It’s a choice. We offer choice.”

By Son Ji-hyoung 
(consnow@heraldcorp.com)

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The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation