Would You Watch Free Content to Earn Crypto? Rewarded TV Is Banking on It

Krish Arvapally is making the bet that his new decentralized streaming platform can run without ads or subscriptions — instead, he wants pay you in his own new cryptocurrency to watch content.

Launched last month, Rewarded TV allows users to earn crypto tokens as they watch, and invest the currency back into paying content providers or buying non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to support creators. The streaming platform is available on the web and major platforms now, offering thousands of hours of free content, including the Agatha Christie mystery “And Then There Were None” and the Casper Van Dien-led biopic “James Dean: Race With Destiny.” The hope is to monetize Rewarded TV in the future through premium content and perks that viewers can unlock with their RPLAY tokens or cash.

“The goal is to provide transparency to the content creators, pay them in real time. Also to the viewer, we want to make sure that they’re fairly treated as well, in terms of rewarding them for watching,” Arvapally told TheWrap. “They’re getting a completely ad-free experience and … no subscription commitment type of experience.”

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After a career in advertising and media over the last 15 years, Arvapally cofounded Replay, a blockchain video tracking and payments platform. The CEO is leading the company in its current launch of Rewarded TV, a decentralized streaming platform that pays people to watch in the aim to create a community-driven content platform.

With Rewarded TV, Arvapally also aims to solve a payments and transparency problem across the media business. The idea for Rewarded TV came to Arvapally when he noticed recurring processing problems in a fragmented streaming business, from the rights holders to the content providers and creators. He wanted to create his next platform to streamline this work and cut down on the payment headaches.

“They all had this problem with rights holders working on one side, and then they had to monetize the content and deal with the viewers on the other side,” Arvapally said. “That whole process of onboarding content is a whole process of the digital prep work that needs to be done. And working with the different partners, we’ve got every single one of those different partners or clients having to go through this process.”

The platform offers some oldies, series, indie films and live and linear channels, including titles the “Ancient Planet” series. Content partners range from small studios to license and rights holders or content aggregators. Some of them include Monarch Studios, Shoreline Entertainment, Film Hub, Sports Illustrated and Al Jazeera, together offering thousands of hours of free shows and movies, Arvapally said. The company declined to tell us its number of current users or how many content providers it’s paying.

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The “watch-to-earn” model is similar to play-to-earn models seen in gaming, which incentivizes users to play to unlock certain achievements, physical and digital goods or other in-game rewards. For Rewarded TV, users will be able to spend tokens to unlock gated content and pay only for what they watch, whether that’s minutes or hours, and content owners will also be able to create NFTs that grant access to premium content or other perks they choose. These work differently than streaming subscriptions that are a recurring cost; NFTs are a one-time cost for that digital asset.

“The way we’re going to monetize it is … we’re going to offer NFT-gated content for premium content, so we’re partnering with some premium and tier-one studios and license holders,” Arvapally said. “And the NFTs are going to provide lifetime access to full premium content on real movies.”

But experts wonder whether RewardedTV will work. Even in the gaming industry, the play-to-earn cryptos model is still an early experiment, according to Corey Wilton, cofounder of blockchain gaming company Mirai Labs. While several games, such as “Axie Infinity” and “Illuvium,” have gained a lot of attention with the approach, he said, it’s hard to say which are successful at this stage.

“Despite the billions that have flown into the niche industry, there is yet to be a completed game by a game studio,” Wilton said.

Wilton believes this model would be a hard sell in the media and streaming services, mainly because the economics become hard to scale. “People earning by simply using a service they used previously for free results is a user base only interested in making money,” he explained. “The reality of the situation is that you can not bring in $100 million into a platform and have users earn $200 million. At some point, the easy ‘earnings’ loop dies as it fails to attract new money, and with that, the user base also dies.”

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There are also other downsides to content in play-to-earn structures, Peter Csathy, chairman of CREATV Media, said, because gamers or viewers are motivated to play endlessly to churn out the hours and maximize their earnings. This business model rewards “blind consumption over all else,” he told TheWrap.

“Making money by simply watching has real power to it,” ‘Csathy said. “These new economic incentives absolutely will fuel streaming consumption of individual titles — and ultimately expand audiences and build new content brands — but not necessarily because of the quality of that content.”

Next quarter, Rewarded TV expects to start integrating the rewards to the platform and introducing premium content in exchange for tokens. By the fourth quarter, it plans to develop NFTs to support content creation and widen its content distributors. For Arvapally, the biggest change coming to the media industry will be film financing, from the studio level to the distribution side, and blockchain will just be the start of this change.

“The way films are made or produced are going to be different, from the artists to hundreds of people behind making content,” Arvapally said. “There is going to be change in the way they’re all compensated. It’s going to be more community-driven, more open … especially when embracing visibility and transparency on the blockchain.”

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