July 30, 2023
5 min

How AI and blockchain are fueling the new creator economy

Blockchain and decentralized technologies let the 99 percent of creators own and monetize their likeness.

In early 2020, Spencer Dinwiddie broke ground as the first NBA player to tokenize his contract on the blockchain. 

It was audacious. Flouting the NBA’s threat to ban him, the then 26-year-old point guard turned his $34.4 million extension with the Brooklyn Nets into a digital currency that let him sell tokens directly to accredited investors. 

In New York, investment banker Solo Ceesay perked up his ears at the news. 

A basketball player using blockchain to unlock his contract’s value without a middleman? Who wanted players everywhere to own and monetize their image? He had to get in touch. 

So started Dinwiddie and Ceesay’s creator economy journey. 

At this year’s Cannes LIONS Festival, the pair unveiled their upcoming “open social marketplace” Calaxy at Stagwell’s Sport Beach. This new platform will allow content creators to sell digital experiences to their fans through blockchain. 

And they had plenty to say on how athletes can monetize their likeness via direct access. 

Here we dive into the duo’s insights on how athletes can monetize their brand through the mechanism of ownership—and how the creator economy (through blockchain and AI) unlocks value for the 99% of athletes that aren’t Lebron.

Blockchain is “for the 99%” of athletes

Ownership as it pertains to people is part of a larger historical discourse around indenture and servitude. 

Divorcing a person’s autonomy from their own image inherently ties into exploitation. It lets other people commodify them, sometimes without credit or royalties. Think Emily Ratajowski’s uphill battle for control over her own social media photos.

(Interestingly, she creatively regained ownership over her image through an NFT. As Dinwiddie and Ceesay said, all the fuss over Bitcoin and NFTs can mask blockchain's potential for other use cases.)

Dinwiddie—who struggled with the NBA’s contract restrictions—is emphatic on this point: “We all reach a stage where everything is a chip on the table and…a metric of value that you watch go up and down…you disassociate from the person.” 

Owning your brand becomes the inevitable moral high ground. 

As Dinwiddie and Ceesay put it, decentralized technologies and peer-to-peer networks offer the athlete autonomy over their own likeness—and this ownership is a mechanism of monetization. 

But what about the downsides? With ownership comes equity, and with equity comes risk. Anyone with skin in the game stands to lose money. And of course, with the creator and their team lies the blame for any strategic error that results in financial loss.

For Dinwiddie, the answer is clearcut: Ownership for the 99 percent isn’t just moral, it’s practical. 

Owning your brand becomes the inevitable moral high ground. 

Without everyone owning their IPs, the only people that can monetize themselves are the top percent of creators and athletes, the Drakes and Shaqs who are big enough to disregard efficiency. The 99 percent doesn’t have an ownership model for efficient monetization. 

That’s what’s at stake, the equity model that allows the 99 percent to unlock value.

That’s why Dinwiddie and Ceesay’s vision for Calaxy was to demystify what is complex about blockchain and apply it to a new use case—the creator economy. 

Pivoting Web3 from transactions to the creator economy

Do people really want to wake up and trade assets every single day? Is there no joy left in making and sharing? Dinwiddie and Ceesay wondered at Web3 users’ tunnel-vision focus on transactions, as if that was all blockchain was good for. What about entertainment and creation? Surely transactions must be a means to an end, not the end in themselves. 

In the current market, content is subservient to transactions. That’s why everyone scrambles for partnerships with the same people with high followership counts, why content chases trends only to remain bloated and sparkless. 

An accessible, equitable earning model could change all that. Creators could align more impactfully with brands they’re passionate about. They could make vibrant, personally fulfilling content under an efficient earning model that cuts out the middleman.

This is the creator economy.

It’s time for creators to reimagine blockchain as something that can connect value from themselves to their fans. The creator economy would use blockchain to grow reach, with a base layer that validates transactions. And the Web3 ecosystem offers creators better liquidity within the system. After all, a wallet outside of the traditional banking system means freer asset movement. 

Under this new equity model, the Steph Currys of the world would still get a lot more deals… 

But the Spencer Dinwiddies could also capitalize on their unique stories. Dinwiddie’s injury and recovery narrative struck a chord in China, making his AI avatar or in-person experience worth more there than Curry’s. 

It becomes a question of identifying your strengths, niche, audience and interests—and then, guns blazing, making interesting content.

AI the gold miner in the creator economy

So creators can profit off their niche stories—BUT they still need access to an easy-to-use platform without any friction from Web3’s apparent complexity. 

That’s why part of Calaxy’s value proposition as securitizer of NBA contracts and music royalties was to make the transition from transactions to the creator economy seamless. 

Enter AI.

Dinwiddie and Ceesay have a progressive philosophical standpoint on AI within the creator economy. They believe AI makes shifting to the creator economy a more painless choice for athletes and entertainers.

After all, AI tools can accelerate production by handling the mundane tasks in the content creation process. They can run the analytics on whether an idea has a market without the creator testing it themselves or hiring a company for the job.  

An athlete could even learn what their fanbase gravitates to through AI. Using a platform like Koalifyed, creators can break down their audience brand affinities and interests; the creator can see if their fans align with NBA over Nike or activewear over cars, and produce content accordingly. 

Screenshot from Koalifyed platform that shows Spencer Dinwiddie’s followers’ brand affinities, likes, and interests.
Spencer Dinwiddie's Koalyfied profile breaks down his audience's brand affinities, likes, and interests.

More importantly, AI can help balance scarcity with value. 

Access to an athlete in the real world is scarce. Representational AI can extend that access in meaningful ways—how does Dinwiddie approach a play? Can we break down his moves on the court?—while still holding on to the valuable scarcity of in-person contact. 

The breakdown: Key insights summary

  • Blockchain and decentralized technologies can let the 99 percent of creators own and monetize their likeness.
  • Pivoting Web3 from transactions to the creator economy lets athletes capitalize on their unique narratives and connect with fans more meaningfully.
  • AI can work in concerto with blockchain technologies to accelerate content creation and extend access to athletes. 
Manal Yousuf

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