Zach LeBeau: “Every creative person will have their own channel or brand on SingularDTV”br>
It isn’t an exaggeration to call Zach LeBeau a blockchain true believer. After all, his marriage was recorded on the blockchain, and he’s now something of an evangelist for Hollywood’s migration to the platform. But that’s all part of a journey that’s taken him from the jungles of the Amazon to corporate life.
Zach LeBeau left the US at age 17, heading to the Amazon rain forest. There he interacted with indigenous tribes, and from there, he spent the next 15 years living in and visiting more than 50 countries on five continents. Beyond that journey, he is the author of a novel, “Monkey Me”; produced two electronica record albums; and launched an animated TV series in Hungary. That’s not all. He’s produced several films, was a principal in an alternative energy company, and launched and sold a luxury clothing line for women.
Now, he’s CEO at SingularDTV, a company focusing on “decentralizing” the entertainment industry. To do that, they’re instituting some features that will reward both artists and the people who watch/listen/read/consume entertainment. They plan to do that by rolling out various platforms that will build on each other in various aspects of licensing, distribution and marketing. Part of their plan includes their own creative works, headlined by Singular, a sci-fi adventure about the human race’s journey into a theoretical technological singularity.
In a BlockTribune exclusive, we asked LeBeau about his vision for a decentralized entertainment world.
BlockTribune: You’re the most interesting man in the world, not that guy in the beer ad.
Zach LeBeau: Wow, okay! You know, I always knew someday that I’d find … or, that the decentralization revolution would find me, I guess you could say. But, until that happens, yeah, I really had no impetus to stay in one place and do one thing, honestly.
BlockTribune: Have you always been kind of restless? Intellectually curious?
Zach LeBeau: Yeah. I was one of these idealistic, romantic kids, I guess you could say. It was a rude awakening for me in high school when I started to realize, “Oh, the world doesn’t just run on love. It’s all about money and politics and all these other things.” It kind of left me feeling disillusioned and angry for quite a long time.
When I got the opportunity one summer between junior and senior year of high school, to go to the Amazon rain forest with some researchers from a university, I jumped on that chance. It blew me away. This kid from the Midwest. Terre Haute, Indiana. Carbondale, Illinois. All of a sudden, spending a couple months in the jungle.
When I came back I was ruined and just had to go out there and see the world.
BlockTribune: You were an artist for a long time. You were a novelist and then you produced a number of music ventures. When did you sort of transition into a more corporate realm, and what led you there? Your bio mentions the Crystal Group of companies. Was that your entrée?
Zach LeBeau: Yeah, yeah. That was an interesting time in life. The Crystal Group of companies was a group of international companies. It was the operators that I really got to know on a personal level and worked very closely with them. It never felt like a corporate culture. It was international. Lots of traveling. It was exciting, so never had to wear a suit or tie for that job, really.
I was absolutely fascinated for a long time, just about so many different things. I never felt fulfilled staying in one place too long or doing one thing. Knowing that something was going to come. It was all going to add up and equate to something.
When I discovered decentralization, blockchain technology, I was like, “This is it! This is what it has all been leading up to.”
BlockTribune: What was your introduction to that, and what made you decide to form a company regarding it?
Zach LeBeau: Well, I had heard of bitcoin years before I got involved in it. But, I didn’t get involved until 2013. I have a few friends to thank for that. “We know you, Zach. You’ve got to get in this as soon as possible.”
When I did it was this feeling of – on a daily or weekly basis, my eyes just opening wider and wider and wider to all the possibilities of decentralization. Because, that’s really what it’s all about to me. Decentralization as a paradigm. As a concept.
When people often ask, “What does this all mean? What does this all equate to? What’s it all about?” They’re talking about blockchain technology. I sort of encapsulate it by saying, “For me, what I think it’s all about, it’s all about decentralized computing.”
It’s at the fringes of computer science right now, but it’s all about that. We’re probably at 1993 or 1994 of the Internet, I guess, in blockchain terms. The reason why it held on so tight to me was because decentralization allows for a consolidation of all these functions and mechanisms under one user experience that are impossible or just not practical to do with the way present software systems or the Internet’s engineered.
Also, there are whole new emergent sets of functions, too, theoretically, that I think we’re finding or discovering going down this decentralized computing development ladder. I always tell people this is all about, really, just upgrading the Internet and upgrading software systems with decentralized computing.
BlockTribune: Do you believe the promise of the Internet was squandered? We heard back, as you mentioned, in ’93/’94, people like (Public Enemy’s) Chuck D and a few other people were touting how record companies would go away and this was all about the artist and they’d be able to sell independently. That world never really came to fruition.
Zach LeBeau: Yeah.
BlockTribune: What’s different this time?
Zach LeBeau: Yeah, that’s a great insight. A great point, because I think about this a lot. Are we creating a new hierarchy, you know? Are we just creating a new top-down system, with maybe technologists more at the top rather than, I don’t know, politicians or religious leaders? I don’t know. I think we’ve got a lot of different iterations of evolution here before we really, truly get to something free and independent and full of liberty. I hope this is the next step that makes it a bit more what people hoped the Internet would be.
BlockTribune: One of the pain points of the Internet and perhaps in the blockchain world and entertainment is marketing, because that’s what differentiates everybody else from the thousands of projects out there.
Zach LeBeau: Yeah.
BlockTribune: We’re talking about decentralization, which means that it’s going to be on the individuals. Do you see the artists raising funds, or is that (part of) your token system? I may be mixing apples and oranges here, but marketing seems to be what helps that daisy push itself up from the rest of them.
Zach LeBeau: It’s true, it’s true. We can come up with solutions for rights management and royalty management, and help to remove intermediaries and all this. But there still is that question of marketing.
We’re creating 11 different modules in our ecosystem. We’ve only talked about three or four of them in public. Module Number One is our rights management gateway. We’ve talked a little bit about that. Module Number Eleven is our decentralized video-on-demand portal.
One of them we haven’t talked about yet is Module Number Nine, which is our marketing module. Even though it’s not going to be a cure-all/end-all for marketing solutions, it does do something really important. It came about because one of the movies that we were working on a few years back, we gave a distributor $35,000 to do a digital marketing campaign. We just happened to know the digital marketers. The company, as well. We found out that that distribution company only gave $5,000 to the digital marketers and kept the other $30,000.
Zach LeBeau: That’s a ridiculous mark-up. It’s actually tantamount to theft, in a way.
What we’ve come up with Marketing Module Number Nine is that our front-end interface will hook into the back-end of a digital marketing company. You, as a creator, as an artist, will be able to go in there and choose your packages and territories, know exactly how much you’re spending and know exactly what you’re spending is going to a real place. It’s not an answer for everything, but it is a step in the right direction.
BlockTribune: When will that interface be online?
Zach LeBeau: Well, at the end of Q2, June, which we’re targeting, we’re launching the first version of our rights management gateway, and in November, we’re launching the first version of our distribution portal. The marketing module will only be able to be launched after our distribution launches, and we don’t expect that marketing module to be out until probably about this time next year.
BlockTribune: Are you launching for video, music, and a bunch of other artistic endeavors at that point? Or are you going to focus on a particular phase of artistry?
Zach LeBeau: Right now, we’ve been focusing pretty much solely on film and television. Film and television deals and the way it’s structured, they’re very complicated and complex compared to other entertainment deals. We’ve always felt that by pioneering film and TV on the blockchain, we’ll build the solutions to be able to do any and all forms of entertainment eventually. We’ve found that to be true in our development ladder. I think the future definitely is pretty much like Apple TV has it on their interface.
When you go to Apple TV, you’ve got films there, television there, music, podcasts, games apps. I think that’s the appropriate model to move forward with in the future. I think entertainment portals should definitely have that variety. That choice.
BlockTribune: In your consumption rewards model, have you worked out how much of a cut you’re going to take?
Zach LeBeau: Not specifically. We have modeled out a number of different scenarios. This has to be done in conjunction with what we’re going for conceptually. The legalities and with the technicians as well, so as little as possible. That’s what we’re gonna strive for. That’s what we’re gonna achieve. Our cut will be as little as possible because ultimately, the whole point is to get to a truly free and decentralized model, where, if you have read about our Phase Three, really the only value changing hands will be between the content creators and the audience. That’s the end goal.
Really, when it comes down to it, in order to be competitive and to keep going in the right direction, we need to give better deals than any deals that are out there already.
When it comes to video-on-demand and things like that, the best deal out there in the market right now is Vimeo. Where Vimeo gives 90% to the artists and only takes a 10% transaction fee, we want to do much better than that. We want to take it to 95% and above and gradually phase our entire fee structure out. If we can theoretically get the utility of the singles token that we think is possible.
BlockTribune: That will be the financial driver, where it will be kind of crowd-funded, in a sense? I’m just trying to figure out, I guess, how the revenue will flow into the system. It’ll all be token-based. It’ll be a proprietary token. That will be split, between the artist, your company, and the users who consume the content?
Zach LeBeau: Well, basically what happens is, in order to use any of our modules, we’ve made singles tokens an important part of their operation.
For example, if you’re using our rights management gateway, then it’s pretty much a flat fee that a user will be paying to add their project to SingularDTV, and decentralize their IP and assets and launch their project from our rights management gateway.
When artists put their content up on our distribution portal, they pretty much are in 100% control of how they want their rights, royalties, and revenue to flow. In their interface, they get to decide how much they want to sell their film or television episodes for. They input where they want that value, that revenue, to go. We leave it up to them completely.
BlockTribune: Do you foresee the Hollywood of the future to be pretty much about production companies run by individual artists? Or, will there still be bigfooted studios, record labels, and all the other things that exist right now?
Zach LeBeau: I think we’ll definitely see a broad spectrum like we do now. I just think that the smaller companies will be better equipped with decentralized applications that give them more control and power, really.
What we’re trying to achieve is, back when television started in the ’40’s, there were really only four companies and three of those are only left right now. You need millions and millions and millions of dollars worth of infrastructure and position to be able to have your own television or station.
Now, through how technology has evolved with the internet and now blockchain technology, we hope that, yeah, every creative person will have their own channel or brand on SingularDTV. Or in our decentralized entertainment industry.
It’s interesting with the studios as well, because there’s so many different levels of producers on there, too. A lot of independent producers still work in the studio system. Independent producers are where the most pain is really at. I don’t think we’re going to see this big negative reaction from studios, because so much of its employment base does feel pain and is looking for solutions.
BlockTribune: Do you foresee your company becoming another platform like a Netflix or a Hulu or something along those lines, except that you’re available via the blockchain?
Zach LeBeau: Yeah, ultimately we do want growth in every language in every country. So, yeah. I would not mind being considered a decentralized Netflix, because there’d be some major differences between a decentralized Netflix and a Netflix. The number one difference is really having the creators retain control over their IP. Over their creative content.
Zach LeBeau: Because we’re doing this in the blockchain, what’s developing is a non-regionalized, international platform. The way the legacy entertainment system works, it’s so regionalized. There’s so many intermediaries and so many deals you have to cut, that it’s one of the reasons why there’s such great barrier to entry for a lot of Hollywood productions and plans into China, for example. Because, the intermediary differences are so great. They’re quite big hurdles. Potentially, we won’t have to deal with any of that, being completely peer-to- peer and decentralized and all the blockchain.
With technology, it’s just getting cheaper and easier to make film and TV and formats are changing and there’s augmented reality and virtual reality and all this. We’re operating under the premise that in the next 10 – 15 years, probably more entertainment content will be created than in the entire history of the entertainment industry. It’s really what our platform is designed for. It’s to list that very huge and powerful catalog of IP, to organize and manage that, potentially.
BlockTribune: When you were doing your own art, what was your reaction to dealing with the infrastructure that was in place with your book and with the other music that you had? Did you have bad experiences that have fostered your belief in the decentralization?
Zach LeBeau: Yeah. Of course, good and bad experiences. One thing that always struck me as really fascinating was the entire gatekeeper infrastructure. It’s always amazed me.
If you go back to when Hemingway and Wolfe and all the great American writers were writing, to be a writer and to get your work out there, there was only probably a handful of people that made the decision whether your works were worthy to be published and seen by the people.
That’s always fascinated me, how very, very few type of people had such great control over what the population gets to read or watch or listen to. That’s always fascinated me and definitely been a driver of moving me forward to break down those gatekeeper type barriers, really.
BlockTribune: What’s the status of your science fiction series?
Zach LeBeau: Yes! That is our flagship original content for SingularDTV. We are moving into production, either at the end of the year, or there is a possibility slightly before. Conservatively speaking, I think it’s probably going to happen at the end of the year. We’ve been putting a lot of those bits and pieces together cast-wise and talent-wise and yeah, looking forward to getting that going. It’s really one of the main reasons why we started doing it all.
BlockTribune: When do you anticipate it being available for public viewing?
Zach LeBeau: 2018, next year.
BlockTribune: All right. Just one question I had of a technical nature. Ethereum was the choice for your platform over bitcoin or something else. Was that just because of the scaling issue?
Zach LeBeau: It’s interesting, cause we attempted to build our tokenized ecosystem on bitcoin technology in the spring of 2014.
Zach LeBeau: We couldn’t achieve the functionality we needed to run a working tokenized ecosystem and company the way we wanted to. We knew ethereum was coming. So, when we figured out ethereum could definitely do what we envisioned it would do, provided we also help develop those tools. Yeah, there’s really been no looking back or looking to any alternatives other than ethereum. The people, the power in it, the minds in it, are just super inspiring. Yeah. Definitely we’re all in ethereum.
BlockTribune: You’re located on 5th Avenue in New York. Do you have a Hollywood office as well?
Zach LeBeau: No, actually. Technically we’re headquartered out of Zurich, Switzerland. We have an office there and we do have an office in New York and in Shanghai. We don’t have one in Los Angeles.
Also, it’s important to note that everything that we’re launching here in Q2 and Q4, we’re mirroring it for our Chinese platform, too. For our Chinese version, as well.
Zach LeBeau: We’re launching English and Chinese simultaneously.
BlockTribune: One of the big challenges, it seems to me, would be educating the public as to what’s possible with this. What are you going to be doing along those lines?
Zach LeBeau: We’re putting together a launch event in June that is going to showcase exactly how to use the rights management gateway. We’ll be using a number of demo artists who will be running their projects through it. We’re just gonna give some real world use cases. That’s going to be really serving as the backbone of our education and marketing.
It’s funny, I was just talking with someone about this the other day, cause they were like, “Are you sure you want to be using words like decentralization and tokenized ecosystems and all these concepts that people might not understand?” It’s a really good point.
I remember when Twitter came out. One of the things Twitter did was, they hired Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore and celebrities like that to go around news shows and talk shows. Larry King Live and all that. Basically, talk about Twitter. Twitter and tweeting and hashtags. What? Hashtags? And, apps, and all these things. Only a hundred-some characters and all that. It was like, “Wow, do you really expect people to do all this new stuff?” And, they did.
Twitter was outrageously successful, I think, because it has a really interesting utility. I think if you have the right kind of utility, then people who need that will be a bit more open to learning new concepts. We definitely hope that’s the case with us.