In June, Chinese pop-punk singer Wowkie Zhang released a music video where he encounters a virtual character in a hyper-colored, animated world that is reminiscent of Pixar films. The avatar, sporting Gen-Z-styled silver hair, a yellow and black oversize sweat, and baggy pants, makes hip-hop moves to Zhang’s catchy, light-hearted tune.

The virtual character isn’t a one-off creation; instead, Zebra Labs, which produced the video, is turning him into a piece of reusable intellectual property that can be bought as NFTs on marketplaces and appear in other virtual occasions like video games. The startup is waiting for the bull market to return to launch the NFT project, Scarlett Li, founder and CEO of Zebra Labs, tells TechCrunch.

The aim of Zebra Labs is to “create intellectual property that’s deeply integrated with content” and “run virtual idols like celebrities,” says Li. Some of the avatars it creates are based on real-life stars, while others are original characters. To generate revenues, Zebra Labs cultivates an audience for its idols through short films, images, and social posts and in turn monetizes the fan base. It also licenses its virtual idols to partners for a fee.

Here’s Zebra Labs trying to build a fan base for Zookie, who makes a cameo in Wowkie Zhang’s music video, by churning out Douyin (TikTok’s Chinese version) clips of the character:

NFT, which is already being widely used in authenticating IP rights, can be used to better engage fans, reckons Li, who previously helped organize some of China’s largest music festivals. “When you reach 30 years old, you lose interest to explore music, so a virtual environment can jumpstart visualization [of music] again.”


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