Japanese teens love their idols. And not in the way that kids in North America fawn over celebrities like Beyoncé—there's an entire industry consisting of young women in "idol groups" with names like C-ute designed to cultivate and sustain dedicated (and lucrative) fandoms.
BitGirls is the latest attempt at tapping into this market, but with a twist: the company behind it is Tech Bureau Corp., a Japanese firm that runs a cryptocurrency exchange, and the BitGirls—minor internet celebrities Maya Sano, Chika Yuki, and Kaori Asakura, according to the show's site—will compete in a talent show where fans can vote for their favourite contestant by purchasing digital tokens.
Every BitGirl has their own virtual currency (so far there's the Chikarin, the Sanoyama, and the Kaori), and in order to buy into their favourite BitGirl's cult of celebrity, the young fans who typically make up the target market for idol girl groups will have to literally buy in.
This is complete evil genius and here's why.
Each girl's coin is what's known as a "token," which are easily created in minutes on the bitcoin blockchain and have very little to no value when they get started. However, as soon as people start buying up the coins, trading them, and if businesses start accepting them, they can become quite valuable.
Now, imagine that a large group of teens start buying up an initially worthless token (or numerous ones, if they want to vote for a different girl week-to-week) so that its value skyrockets. Now, the people voting for their favourite idols have a real monetary investment in their fandom instead of just an emotional one.
"For a certain number of fans, yes," Takao Asayama, CEO of Tech Bureau Corp., wrote me in an email when I asked if the goal was to lock fans into financial relationships with their idols.
"This will also allow fans to switch their investment target to other members, just like what you do with cryptocurrency trading," he continued. "Some of the more enthusiastic fans will be locked to gain their voting tokens as a dividend, and also to keep the market cap of their favorite BitGirl high."
The largest shareholders of each girl's coin will be added to a "rich list," according to the white paper, where they will be given "virtual corporate titles" like vice president. Coin-hoarding teens would, for all intents and purposes, be the fictional VP or senior manager of not just a digital token but, by way of voting power on the show, a real human being.
This could engender some strange future scenarios: unpopular girls' coins would be worth less than those of the stars of the show, turning BitGirls into a speculation market for celebrity as fans can buy up shares in the lagging contestants in the hopes that they become more popular.
This also ties fans' financial fates to the fate of the show itself. "As the BitGirls show becomes more popular, so does its market cap," the BitGirls white paper states. "If there are scandals or other negative news about the show the price of [the coins] could sell off really hard."
Besides being a genius way to lock kids financially into a potentially long-term financial relationship with their idols, this idea could have interesting effects on the usual American Idol-style TV voting system.
As the girls' coins rise in value, week-by-week voting decisions will have increasingly higher stakes as there's more money on the line, and could also even things out for contestants if fans continually buy lower-value tokens as the star's tokens rise in cost.
"If you want to support your favorite BitGirl more," Asayama wrote, "you could strategically purchase unpopular BitGirl's [currency] for a cheap price to receive more voting tokens, with a risk of supporting a competitor BitGirl's market cap. This system will help unpopular BitGirl's demand at certain level, and keep this whole game more fun."
Since the voting will take place on the bitcoin blockchain, it can also be watched live and stored for posterity, so that users can look back at the voting decisions of others.
Long-time fans will also be rewarded over newer ones with troves of valuable coins, much in the same way that early adopters of bitcoin are sitting pretty now that the currency has risen in value from the days when a single pizza was purchased for 10,000 coins—a sum that would now be worth more than $6 million.
BitGirls will premier on local Tokyo station Tokyo MX on October 21, and will be broadcast every Friday.
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