Zebra Labs raises $5M to assist Chinese language celebrities enter the metaverse • TechCrunch

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In June, Chinese language pop-punk singer Wowkie Zhang launched a music video the place he encounters a digital character in a hyper-colored, animated world that’s paying homage to Pixar movies. The avatar, sporting Gen-Z-styled silver hair, a yellow and black oversize sweat, and saggy pants, makes hip-hop strikes to Zhang’s catchy, light-hearted tune.

The digital character isn’t a one-off creation; as an alternative, Zebra Labs, which produced the video, is popping him into a bit of reusable mental property that may be purchased as NFTs on marketplaces and seem in different digital events like video video games. The startup is ready for the bull market to return to launch the NFT venture, Scarlett Li, founder and CEO of Zebra Labs, tells TechCrunch.

The goal of Zebra Labs is to “create mental property that’s deeply built-in with content material” and “run digital idols like celebrities,” says Li. Among the avatars it creates are based mostly on real-life stars, whereas others are unique characters. To generate revenues, Zebra Labs cultivates an viewers for its idols via brief movies, photos, and social posts and in flip monetizes the fan base. It additionally licenses its digital idols to companions for a price.

Right here’s Zebra Labs attempting to construct a fan base for Zookie, who makes a cameo in Wowkie Zhang’s music video, by churning out Douyin (TikTok’s Chinese language model) clips of the character:

NFT, which is already being broadly utilized in authenticating IP rights, can be utilized to higher have interaction followers, reckons Li, who beforehand helped set up a few of China’s largest music festivals. “If you attain 30 years outdated, you lose curiosity to discover music, so a digital surroundings can jumpstart visualization [of music] once more.”

NFTs additionally give rising musicians a extra direct avenue for earnings. In China, music distribution is within the grip of music streaming giants owned by Tencent and NetEase. These platforms are inclined to allocate consumer visitors to musicians already with a number of followers, “so to dwell effectively as a musician, it is advisable to have 1,000,000 followers,” says Li. “NFTs can change that.”

As a veteran of music festivals, Li is worked up in regards to the prospect of on-line concert events. She’s benchmarking towards Ariana Grande’s Fornite concert, by which the singer descends into a colourful island in her digital manifestation with a shimmering silver gown and a glowing white ponytail. Zebra Labs is in talks with a number of gaming companies to launch digital concert events for Chinese language artists inside a Minecraft-like recreation and a metaverse platform by 2023, Li says.

Zebra Labs just lately raised $5 million to advance its metaverse imaginative and prescient. The funding got here from the Chinese language gaming agency NetDragon and the Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo. Onboarding a Japanese investor, based on Li, can assist the startup study from the nation’s lengthy historical past of IP administration, which is exemplified by the success of digital idols like Hatsune Miku. The corporate can be backed by SOSV, the VC agency identified for its community of accelerators.

Following its collaboration with Wowkie Zhang’s music video, which has garnered some 40 million clicks throughout an array of on-line channels, Zebra Labs has 5 different artists within the pipeline. It’s additionally planning to launch a digital twin of Zhang by the primary quarter of 2023.

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