How Has the Media Covered Beeple and NFTs?
“I can say non-fungible… what is it? Uh, non-fungible…” began a co-host of CNBC’s Squawk on the Street, reeling after learning that Beeple’s digital artwork had just sold for USD 69.3 million. Christie’s sent shockwaves through the auction industry last week by selling Beeple’s EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS for that massive sum. But the story went far beyond the industry, becoming mainstream news around the world. The media grappled with what the result means for art, investments, and a growing digital world. To add insult to injury, many news anchors also had to learn how to say “non-fungible token” in real time on-air.
It’s easy to discount what those outside of the industry have to say about NFTs and digital art. However, the rhetoric of mainstream media sources will decide how millions of people view the category, including potential buyers.
How has the media reacted to the success of Beeple and NFTs as a whole? Auction Daily takes a closer look.
“Almost Broke the Art Internet”
Squawk on the Street might have stumbled with its initial coverage, but one of its sister programs, Squawk Alley, came out more confidently in favor of the emerging NFTs and Beeple’s work. CNBC reporter Robert Frank said NFTs had emerged from being a “speculative sideshow” in the auction industry, and he anointed it as a bonafide “asset class” with Beeple as its main influencer.
The television program also had Beeple on for a live interview following the auction results. The segment began with footage captured by Christie’s of Beeple seeing the auction conclude. “It almost broke the art internet yesterday,” announced the show’s host, Jon Fortt, at the start of the segment.
Much of the interview was framed as a feel-good story with a few questions looking to the future of NFTs. During the interview, host Jon Fortt pitched NFTs to his audience as the intersection between “luxury and uniqueness.” Beeple responded with his own pitch, positioning NFTs as an “alternative asset class” for millennials and Generation Z, echoing Robert Frank’s comments on the same program.
During the interview, Beeple also mentioned the possibility of NFTs being a market bubble on the verge of bursting. He did not disregard this claim. Instead, the artist said that NFTs and digital art can survive the blow, citing how the internet survived the dot-com bubble. Beeple acknowledged, though, that such a situation would have collateral damage, affecting many artists and collectors.
“Oh, You’re an Idiot”
NBC’s program Today began its coverage before the auction with an objective look at NFTs. Reporter Kerry Sanders acknowledged how strange the concept of NFTs may be to viewers at home while also getting first-hand explanations from Beeple and Christie’s contemporary art specialist Noah Davis.
Once Sanders’ initial report ended, though, the Today hosts were free to take aim at the idea of NFTs. One host audibly sighed when the term “cryptocurrency” came up. Meanwhile, Craig Melvin, one of the show’s anchors, imagined a scenario in which two people are looking at the same image on their phones, but one of them paid $2.5 million to own it. “Oh, you’re an idiot,” he told the fictional buyer.
Days later, the show’s analysis of the auction results focused less on the future of NFTs and more on some of the hosts’ embarrassment. Kerry Sanders had Beeple on for a follow-up interview, mostly to let him take a light-hearted jab at the Today anchors. “I already know that’s going to live in infamy,” said co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, referencing her previously skeptical comments. Even after the Christie’s auction, Today’s coverage treated NFTs more as a curious side story than a subject worth critical investigation.
“Power to the Beeple”
Al Jazeera, an internationally-minded news source owned in part by the Qatari government, framed the Beeple sale as a move to democratize art. “Power to the Beeple,” reads the publication’s headline. The article mentions twice that NFTs appeal to “a new class of collectors,” citing the predominantly millenial and Generation X bidders. It also frames NFTs as a solution to determining the authenticity of digital works.
The New York Times‘ coverage is less enthusiastic about the auction result, giving the first real word on it to a skeptical Todd Levin. “On the one hand, it’s super exciting to witness a historical inflection point,” the art advisor told the Times. “On the other hand, the amount of money involved could skew and damage a nascent emerging market.” Many news outlets paint NFTs as a phenomenon that’s only experienced an upward trajectory. The New York Times, however, mentions that NFTs were already negatively impacted by a collapse in the cryptocurrency market back in 2018, chronicling its “ups and downs.”
Both within the auction industry and outside of it, the success of Beeple’s EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS comes with a mix of praise and skepticism. Above all else, the $69.3 million result achieved last week ensures that conversation will continue long into the future.
Auction Daily will continue covering the emergence of Beeple and NFTs as the story progresses. Interested in how the auction industry got here? Read Nazia Safi’s category spotlight on digital art, published before the record-setting sale.