Peter Csathy | Special to USA TODAY
Just when we thought it was safe to get back into the real world, new COVID variants emerge to brush us back – continuing to transform all aspects of our lives. While nothing is more powerful than real physical human connection, the digital virtual tech-driven world was the big story for media and entertainment in 2021.
In particular, 2021 marked the coming out party for the blockchain – a kind of transformational decentralized Web 3.0 world. In the world of media, the headline blockchain story took its form in so-called non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Will the blockchain’s adoption in media accelerate in 2022?
My Magic 8-Ball says “Signs point to ‘YES’.”
Here are 10 predictions for the coming year in which we hope that we finally get COVID under some kind of real long-term control.
1. Blockchain blows up in 2022
After early experimentation in 2021, 2022 will mark the year creators truly begin to embrace and leverage the power of the blockchain at scale. Just like iPhones ushered in a whole new mobile-first world of content 15 years ago, so-called Web 3.0 ushers in a whole new transformational world for originators of intellectual property, or IP, to directly reach and monetize their audiences. In the process, creators take back at least some of the power of mega tech platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Apple that built their trillion-dollar-plus valuations on their backs.
2. NFTs a new venue for fans
And 2022 will mark the year superfans will use their collective decentralized power to fuel creativity from their favorite artists via blockchain-related opportunities. Most in the entertainment world still focus on Beeple’s $69-million digital art NFT as being the blockchain’s poster child.
Beeple: Behind the $70 million art sale
When digital artist Beeple, real name Mike Winkelmann, put an NFT digital artwork up for auction this month at Christie’s London, he became instantly famous when it sold for almost a $70 million. (March 26)
But instead they should be thinking of NFTs as new direct and directly monetizing channels of super-fandom – opening up membership into exclusive new clubs. If few in the world of media now know of CryptoPunks, Bored Ape Yacht Club and DAOs in general (decentralized autonomous organizations), that changes in 2022. The blockchain, NFTs and DAOs are no momentary fads. They are long-term game-changers. Like it or not, the Los Angeles-based Staples Center’s new “Crypto.com Arena” moniker is here to stay. Hey, brands out there, you better claim your “.eth” web address now. (Here’s why.)
►Decoding the lingo: 10 cryptocurrency terms people use every day
3. Big action to come against Big Tech
The new mega-media platforms of Facebook (or Meta, actually), Google, Apple, and Amazon face a more immediate threat than the blockchain and related new decentralized social platforms in 2022, as big government finally takes big action against big tech in advance of 2022’s mid-term elections. Facebook and Zuckerberg are first to feel the pinch, as the Feds force Facebook to shed Instagram (and perhaps set some real rules to limit unbridled ad and AI-driven algorithmic devastation, both on young people and society itself). These “unlockings” of tech conglomerates will unlock more content innovation across more competing tech platforms.
►The Facebook Papers: Facebook fed posts with violence and nudity to people with low digital literacy
4. Apple leads the way to the metaverse
Faced with these threats, Facebook tries to run and hide with its new Meta moniker (the quintessential “lipstick on a pig”), but real metaverse innovation comes from others, including Apple. Yes, Apple’s AR glasses ultimately will drive some of that innovation. But Apple already sports the ultimate wearable – AirPods (now a $20-billion business by itself). AirPods will become the first major gateway into the metaverse – outside of the games industry – much like Apple drove mass consumer adoption in the mobile world with the iPhone. Expect micro-cameras to be incorporated into higher-end, extremely expensive versions of AirPods that will enable visual experiences. I can see you lining up at your local Apple store already.
►What is the metaverse anyway? Everyone wants to own the metaverse including Facebook and Microsoft
5. Games + crossovers = metaverse magic
Speaking of games, that industry will continue to lead all other categories of entertainment content by an order of magnitude and increasingly show the way for artists and creators to emerge and build audiences. Before the tragedy of Astroworld, Travis Scott broke out into the metaverse in 2020 via “Fortnite” to the tune of 50 million viewers who drove a No. 1 hit. Ariana Grande shattered those numbers this past year, and the marriage of games and music grows stronger in 2022 as music licensing for games becomes a massive new revenue stream.
►From Facebook to Fortnite: The metaverse is calling. Are we ready?
6. Get paid to play
Media and tech business models will continue to fundamentally evolve, particularly in light of the havoc wreaked by ad-driven business models from the two major culprits of Facebook and Google. We’ve already seen the shift from single transactions to subscription-based recurring revenue bundles (Amazon Prime, Apple One, Disney+). That will accelerate in 2022. And move over “free to play” business models in the world of games. Now, thanks to the blockchain, welcome to an entirely new “play to earn” model that literally pays players to play (and gives them fractional ownership in the games they play). Why work when you can play? Other parts of the entertainment industry will continue to look to the world of games for inspiration and innovation, because that’s where it’s happening.
7. In battle for screen dominance, Disney beats Netflix
Disney+ will grow more rapidly than Netflix – and begin to close the gap in terms of global paid members – as the Mouse House begins to unlock significantly more dollars to produce originals. And don’t forget Disney’s “special sauce” that Netflix can’t touch – Disney’s priceless crown jewels of content – i.e., the Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, Avengers, and Disney Princess franchises. Just imagine the NFTs Disney can (and will) create with those timeless characters (which, in turn, will drive more Disney+ subscriptions/memberships). Meanwhile, Amazon and Apple will also quietly raise their own originals ante as they too accelerate their media ambitions – but for decidedly different ends. Amazon and Apple use content as marketing and to drive customer loyalty – to draw us in and create an ongoing customer relationship so we spend more time (and cash) in their walled gardens. And in the thirst for new content, expect more media production company acquisitions in 2022. The big buy in 2021 was Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine. Indie idol A24 will be the big prize for 2022.
8. Musicians to harness the power of NFTs
Music will continue its double-digit growth – fueled by accelerating streaming via broader global broadband connectivity, entirely new royalty-paying platforms (Facebook, TikTok, Peloton), the growing ubiquity of smart speakers and, yes, transformational blockchain-fueled opportunities like NFTs. Perhaps most notably – and most notably absent in the minds of most executives still today – superfans will directly drive significantly more dollars into the pockets of their favorite artists. Billions have been left on the table in the past. Not any longer.
►Making music and history: In her return, singer Shontelle deploys NFTs in song of empowerment
9.You could help finance the next big Hollywood entertainment project
Expect the retail market – that’s you and me, the superfans – to directly finance and even buy fractional pieces of content from our favorite artists. In a world of content increasingly being “king,” private equity has pumped billions of dollars into the world of music acquisitions for the likes of Stevie Nicks and Bob Dylan. But that kind of content ownership will not be just for the “big boys” in 2022. NFTs will help fuel the way. And superfan-fueled crowd-funding and IP ownership aren’t just for the world of music. The retail market will open up an entirely new world of financing for producers of film and television. Hey, Hollywood, check out “The Chosen.” If you don’t know about it, you should.
10. Live entertainment is back, but forever changed
Music festivals and other mega-live entertainment experiences will continue to open up in 2022 due to pent up demand for real, physical interaction and lasting shared experiences in our increasingly heads-down digital, virtual world. But these large-scale live events are forever changed as a result of the twin tragedies of COVID and Astroworld. Crowd control, mitigation and broader safety and security efforts and focus will transform overall planning and execution – not to mention the overall “festival experience” for those who attend.
There you have it – 10 predictions for our increasingly tech-driven world of media and entertainment in 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.