Ryan Kavanaugh and Triller Take Their Media Disruption Game Into the NFT Space

Ryan Kavanaugh

TrillerNet, the media company co-owned by Ryan Kavanaugh, is one year into its radical remake of combat sports with Triller Fight Club, a next-generation combination of boxing, MMA and music targeting a young audience that proved out of the reach of traditional boxing. Triller Fight Club has put on exciting events with bouts featuring Mike Tyson and Vitor Belfort headlining alongside Justin Bieber, Wiz Khalifa and other top musical talent to sold-out venues and millions of online pay-per-view fans. To promote Triller, the music-centered video-sharing app, TrillerNet also stages another kind of combat: The Verzuz rap battles, featuring legends such as KRS-ONE and Timbaland.

TrillerNet’s innovation is not limited to social media and the fight game. The company has entered the booming NFT (non-fungible tokens) market. Images include a bundle of 10 Verzuz events, including the Earth, Wind & Fire vs. Isley Brothers battle; as well as several stand-alone NFT properties, including video of Jake Paul’s knockout of Ben Askren.  

NFTs have been around for nearly a decade but exploded into the public consciousness this year. Digital artist Beeples’ work, “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” was the first NFT artwork to be auctioned at Christie’s and sold for $69.3 million. The Kings of Leon sold their latest album in the form of an NFT for $2 million. Even Jack Dorsey, Twitter founder, sold an NFT of his first tweet for $2.5 million. Basketball players such as LeBron James tokenized collectable cards, the Shiba Inu Doge meme was tokenized and sold for $4 million, and Hollywood producers promised NFT versions of upcoming films.

Wall Street jumped on the trend, seeing NFTs as a new asset class, akin to investing in art. Unlike paint-on-canvas paintings or real-world sculptures, where provenance can be difficult to ascertain and counterfeits run rampant, NFTs are 100 percent verifiable, thanks to blockchain technology. The owners of the Millennium Sapphire, the world’s largest sapphire, are selling NFT digital images of the many images carved into the sides of the football-sized, multi-million-dollar gem. In May, GreenPro Capital paid $16 million for a series of 7,770 NFTs depicting the Soviet Sputnik satellite, which is one of the images carved into the sapphire.

The TrillerNet NFTs include iconic video and still images from the first year of Triller Fight Club, including Jake Paul walking to the ring for his match with Ben Askren – followed by a massive dancing robot; the knockout moment in the Reykon-Fournier fight; and the “Goodnight Juice” punch in the Prograis-Redkach fight. 

Music NFTs include videos of performances by Justin Bieber, Dojo Cat, Mt. Westmore and the Verzuz commemorative bundle of 10 images. The Trailer Park Boys – a mockumentary television series – dropped a one-of-a-kind 20th-anniversary NFT video clip for Triller.

TrillerNet’s growing NFT collection is symbolic of the media company’s commitment to cutting-edge technology. Triller’s killer app is its proprietary Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. Triller’s AI tech drives its user experience. The user can shoot several video clips and then the AI stitches them together without the user having to do it themselves; it is an auto-editing tool.

The user can shoot separate video clips set to the same music, and shoot several takes using different filters or edits each time. Then the AI takes over. Once it completes the edit, the users can flip around and replace clips as they like. No other video-sharing app has this technology.

For Ryan Kavanaugh, who co-owns TrillerNet with Bobby Sarnevesht, NFTs are the logical next step in a career in the entertainment industry that has been marked by innovation and looking around the corner to see what’s next.

More than 20 years ago, Kavanagh took his disruption mindset to Hollywood, establishing Relativity Media. He became the first producer to adopt a “Moneyball” approach to film financing. Ryan Kavanaugh used this model to execute a deal for Marvel Studios, which led to the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a franchise now worth $25 billion. Following this approach, he produced more than 200 highly successful films – including several Oscar nominees and six winners and generated more than $17 billion at the box office. Among his critically acclaimed and popular films were “Frost/Nixon,” “Atonement,” “Burn After Reading” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” 

Today, Ryan Kavanaugh is a principal at Proxima Media, a media investment firm that includes some of Hollywood’s most innovative and disruptive entrepreneurs. Using Kavanaugh’s proven model, the company’s goal is to control production and marketing costs to maximize worldwide value by focusing on low-risk, single-picture financing. To date, Proxima has financed, produced, and distributed more than 250 films and some of the most successful programs in television history.​

Now, it’s on to social media and Triller. Kavanaugh and Sarnevesht, through Proxima Media, assumed controlling ownership of Triller in 2019. Unlike its chief rival, TikTok, Triller has music licensing deals with multiple record labels – including Sony Music, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group – which allows Triller users to create their own music videos and share them on the social network, with the professional editing touch of Triller’s AI. 

Building out on Triller’s strengths, the company acquired Verzuz, a webcast series founded by Timbaland and Swiss Beatz, that sets up rap battles between high-profile artists, including Babyface, Ludacris, Nelly, Young Jeezy and other A-listers.

Triller and Kavanaugh understood the appeal of combat and its nexus with music and decided to take their disruptive spirit into the most ancient of combat sports: boxing. Dominated by a few entrenched players and moribund for decades, boxing had the potential to be interesting to younger viewers, but was being ignored because it had not adapted to a video and digital world. Boxing matches were still being presented as if the only viewers were live, and the experience was alien to young viewers.

In November 2020, Ryan Kavanaugh and Triller launched Triller Fight Club, a match-made-in-heaven entertainment event that combines music with combat sports. Kavanaugh draws on his film background and films Triller Fight Club bouts using cinematic techniques – the same sort used in the Relativity Media film, “The Fighter.”

Over the past year, Triller Fight Club events have featured memorable bouts with names such as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Jake Paul and Vitor Belfort, playing on the age-old “Who Would Win?” question when pitting boxers against MMA fighters. Interspersed between Triller Fight Club main events and undercard matches are the entertainment acts that make the entire evening appealing to the 17-to-27-year-old demographic – or “culture-graph,” as Triller calls it, also known as the typical Triller user. The Triller Fight Club matches have promoted the Triller video sharing app, and vice versa. It is a convergence that Ryan Kavanaugh calls “Web 3.0” – instead of pop-up ads, or embedded ads, Triller Fight Club personalities interact with Triller users and seamlessly deliver ad content.

Next month, Triller Fight Club will launch the “Triller Triad,” its latest disruption to the fight game: A three-sided ring that will level the playing field between boxers and MMA fighters and up the action by forcing the fighters to avoid the deep corners. 

The Triller Fight Club events have provided a year’s worth of memorable moments, with more to come, and many of them are enshrined in the NFT collection. 

Tiller Fight Club

Tiller Fight Club

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