Mashrafe Mortaza of Bangladesh is stumped by Kumar Sangakkara of Sri Lanka during a 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup match at Melbourne Cricket Ground on Feb. 26, 2015. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
When the 2019 Cricket World Cup begins at the end of May, fans in Southeast Asia will be able to watch broadcasts from England and Wales on their mobile phones through a new blockchain-powered marketplace. Bolt, a content platform, is offering crypto tokens that can be earned through content creation and then redeemed for virtual tickets to stream cricket.
The new system is barter by blockchain. Users can either purchase tokens or earn them by producing videos or subtitling programs for others to enjoy. Bolt offers a wide array of content, ranging from live network TV (from partners such as Al Jazeera and the Discovery Channel) to soccer highlights (of the UEFA Champions League, English Premier League, and La Liga) to interactive games and social creations like those found on YouTube. Bolt’s founder and CEO, Jamal Hassim, hails from a broadcast TV background.
The International Cricket Council’s quadrennial tournament is its first foray into live sports rights for Bolt, whose crypto technology is operated by Zilliqa.
“We thought it would be a natural choice for us to carry the Cricket World Cup on our platform and use that as a first mass-blockchain use case on how users can gain access to this sort of premium content by actively participating in the ecosystem,” said Bolt co-founder and chief commercial officer, Christel Quek. “This is something that I’ve always kind of dreamed of being able to do.”
Quek, who is based in Singapore and is also an adviser to Zilliqa, was formerly Twitter’s head of content for its international markets from 2013 to 2015. Her experience at that social media giant shaped her perspective, helping form the idea for what Bolt hopes is a new sports broadcast paradigm.
“When I was at Twitter, for example, we post content all the time on Twitter—for free, if you think about it—but we actually have to watch ads while we’re posting content,” Quek said. “We don’t even get a single percent of the ad revenue from Twitter for doing so.
“This is one way where I wanted to say, let’s do a new model, where people who actually contribute get something back. It may not be advertising revenue, but they can get access to something they really want to watch.”
Quek acknowledged taking some inspiration from Viki, a platform where users add subtitles to Korean dramas for free. Some two to three million users are engaged by Viki to learn a new language or feel part of a community, she said, noting that Rakuten acquired the business for roughly $200 million in 2013. Bolt offers similar opportunities but will incentivize users with tokens.
Bolt’s offering lends itself to the demographics of Southeast Asia. The World Bank, among others, has voiced the concern that much of the population there is “unbanked” or “underbanked,” meaning they either have no or limited access to traditional financial institutions. Even peer-to-peer apps like PayPal and Venmo rely on banks, so many in the area make payments through mobile wallets using their telco provider.
“The blockchain isn’t just a buzzword for us,” Quek said. “For a long time, we were looking for a solution [where] we could actually process efficient payments.”
Quek said Bolt’s target demographic is the people living in emerging markets, such as in Southeast Asia and East Africa. Bolt, she said, takes a much smaller percentage for a transaction fee than a telco company. Furthermore, these areas often lack reliable public Wi-Fi or in-home broadband.
“We realized that, for a lot of emerging market consumers, their actual currency isn’t money. Their currency is mobile data. They’re crazy about it,” Quek said, before adding: “It’s their connectivity to the world.”
Bolt tokens also can be used to acquire more data, which is particularly helpful for the World Cup. As Quek said with a knowing laugh, “A cricket match is very, very long.”
Crickets fan watching on their phones via Bolt’s platform will see the standard ICC broadcast feed, but Bolt will also produce some original shoulder content related to the tournament. The company’s cricket and community manager, Steve Taylor, is a former county cricket player in England. After retiring, he spent most of his professional life as an actor, which included a role in a Danny Boyle film (“Strumpet”). Taylor will produce original programming for Bolt in and around the World Cup.