Chinese celebrities enter the metaverse with $5M raised by Zebra Labs

Wowkie Zhang, a Chinese pop-punk singer, released a music video in June in which he encounters a virtual character in a hyper-colored, animated world. Zhang’s catchy, light-hearted tune features the avatar, dressed in silver hair, an oversize sweatshirt, and baggy pants.

A virtual character like the one in the video is not a one-off creation, but rather will become reusable intellectual property that can be sold on markets or appear in other virtual events like video games if Zebra Labs, the company that made the video, decides to reuse it. Founder and CEO of Zebra Labs, Scarlett Li, says the company plans to launch the NFT project when the bull market returns.

Using virtual idols as celebrities and creating intellectual property intensively integrated with content are the objectives of Zebra Labs, says Li. Real-life stars are incorporated into some of its avatars, while original characters are created as well. The Zebra Labs monetizes its fan base by creating short films, images, and social posts that cultivate an audience for its idols. Virtual idols are also licensed to partners for a fee.

Authenticating IP rights using NFT, which is already widely used, can improve fan engagement, says Li, who helped organize some of China’s largest music festivals. After 30 years, you lose interest in exploring music, so a virtual environment can rejuvenate your interest in music.

Emerging musicians can also earn more directly through NFTs. Streaming giants Tencent and NetEase control music distribution in China. It is common for these platforms to assign user traffic to musicians with large follower bases, so Li recommends having a million fans in order to be successful as a musician. It is possible to change that with NFTs.”

As a veteran of music festivals, Li is looking forward to the prospect of online concerts. As a benchmark, she compared herself to Ariana Grande’s Fornite concert, in which the singer descended into a shimmering silver dress with a glowing white ponytail. As soon as 2023, Zebra Labs says it plans to launch virtual concerts for Chinese artists inside a Minecraft-like game and a metaverse platform.

In order to advance its metaverse vision, Zebra Labs recently raised $5 million. NetDragon, a Chinese gaming company, and Sumitomo, a Japanese conglomerate, contributed to the financing. In addition to learning from Japan’s history of IP management, which is evident in virtual idols like Hatsune Miku, Li believes that onboarding a Japanese investor will help the startup become more successful. Additionally, SOSV, the accelerator network known for its VC investments, is backing the company.

Zebra Labs has five other artists in the pipeline after its collaboration with Wowkie Zhang’s music video has garnered more than 40 million views across various online channels. Zhang will also be digitally twinned by the first quarter of 2023.