Old Dog, New Tricks: Bob Ross and the Potential of NFTs

NFT -- Non Fungible Token -- text over a dollar bill and electric background

Bob Ross was a prolific painter of landscape art and hosted the famous PBS series, The Joy of Painting, from the early-80s to mid-90s.  While the Bob Ross company is still capitalizing on his name and intangible assets well after his death, how could new digital asset technology like NFTs help businesses like his monetize their existing portfolio of assets.

The Joy of Painting

Netflix recently released a documentary on the landscape painter, Bob Ross.  Over the years, his public broadcast TV show, The Joy of Painting, gained a significant following because, firstly he created amazing paintings in about 30 minutes with no editing or cutting, and secondly his unique instruction and attitude while painting created a sense of connection and friendship with the host.  During his shows, he had unique quotes like, “This is your world, you’re the creator!” and “Let’s build some happy little trees.”  He spoke in a quiet voice that drew you into his world, and made you believe that you too could paint like he did.

In the years since Bob Ross died, you can still see his impact on pop culture.  In 2015, all episodes of the Joy of Painting were added to the Bob Ross channel on YouTube, and Netflix, Tubi, Twitch and even the BBC have aired or streamed some or all of Ross’ shows over the past few years.

During the show, Bob Ross’ company sold branded painting kits, and other related tangible products, nationally and internationally wherever the show aired.  In recent years the company has branched out into other products like t-shirts, mugs, games, and even Chia pets.  In fact, my 14-year-old niece wears a t-shirt with Bob Ross’ distinctive face and hair, and the quote, “No mistakes, just happy accidents!”

The main drama of the Netflix documentary focuses on the business side of the show, and specifically who controlled the intangible assets left behind when Bob Ross passed away in 1995.  Regardless of where you come down on the ethical argument of how his name and likeness should have been used and who should have benefited, it is hard to argue with the success and ubiquity of the brand Bob Ross created.  I mean, the studio promoting Deadpool 2 did a trailer with a parody of the Joy of Painting complete with happy trees and big poofy hair.

What Bob Ross Inc. recognised and capitalized on quickly was the feeling Bob Ross created in his shows.  They created a complete intangible asset strategy, including obtaining multiple copyrights and trademarks, maintaining organizational quality, and vigorously pursued legal action against any who infringed on their intellectual property rights.

Great by yesterday’s standards, but in today’s digital age, a new tool has emerged that would also support Bob Ross Inc. to enhance revenue and maintain some control over its digital assets: NFTs. As corporations and individuals look to better manage their own intangible assets, NFT’s may be another tool in the toolbox that will perfectly fit for the movement into the digital economy.

What are NFTs?

NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens, are basically certificates of authenticity of digital assets using blockchain technology.  Think of it like this, an NFT is the digital equivalent of a numbered printing of a baseball card or piece of art.  The blockchain records associated with the digital file enables the tracking of ownership of the item.  NFTs can be tied to any digital item (GIF, artwork, video, etc.) and have been used by digital artists, celebrities, and collectors for everything from clipart of rocks and Lindsay Lohan fan art, to digital art sold for millions.

While it is easy to see the similarities of NFTs with tangible assets in the real world, the reality becomes more difficult to nail down.  Each of the items noted above, can be downloaded for free and copied multiple times over, albeit without the blockchain authenticity of traceable ownership.  So, how would a company or artist like Bob Ross capitalize on NFTs?

While the digital item can be copied, NFTs are designed to provide a unique intangible asset: ownership through the blockchain ledger.  The artist or content creator still owns the copyright and reproduction rights, but whoever owns the file with the NFT attached, owns an original, much like owning one of Bob Ross’ authenticated paintings.  The NFT allows the owner to legitimately sell their copy of the digital file, and the ownership transfer can be validated because of the blockchain attached to the file; in essence the NFT enables the possibility of perpetual value of a digital item.  Further to this point, some existing NFTs direct a percentage of the resale value back to original artist or creator for each ownership transfer or transaction, thus extending the revenue potential of a project or digital asset.

The potential for NFTs doesn’t stop there. Other areas being explored to leverage this technology include: ticketing systems to gain access to streaming shows or events; in-game items in MMO games like World of Warcraft; or special versions of digital content released in conjunction with a promotional event like a movie release.

There is still some way to go in determining NFTs most effective use in the marketplace, and who will be the best customers.  However, it isn’t hard to imagine a future content creator, live-streaming a show creating “happy trees,” and utilizing an NFT to grant the viewer ownership of the created art during the episode.

As artists, inventors, creators, and corporations continue to build, design, and create new digital products and services, being able to find a way to build and protect value in these intangibles assets is increasingly important – especially in the context of a commercial world where unique assets may provide a competitive advantage or unfair advantage against the competition.

So, if you’ve been waiting to release your digital idea into the market or are looking for ways to protect and leverage your existing portfolio of assets, NFT’s may provide the missing tool for you to be able to track ownership and be compensated each time it changes hands.  If the Bob Ross Co. had been able to use NFT’s as part of their intangible asset strategy, some of the major risks they still face today would be eliminated and new streams of revenue opened up.


Clark, M. (2021, August 18). NFTs, Explained. Retrieved from The Verge: https://www.theverge.com/22310188/nft-explainer-what-is-blockchain-crypto-art-faq

Crockett, Z. (2021, May 1). Why Its nearly Impossible to Buy an Original Bob Ross Painting. Retrieved from The Hustle: https://thehustle.co/why-its-nearly-impossible-to-buy-an-original-bob-ross-painting/

Marinique, E. (2021, March 29). 8 NFT Marketplaces to be Familiar with Right Now. Retrieved from Widewalls: https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/nft-marketplaces

Rofe, J. (Director). (2021). Bob Ross Happy Accidents Betrayal and Greed [Motion Picture].

Wodinsky, S. (2021, August 18). People are Shelling Out Six Figures for NFT Rocks. Retrieved from GIZMODO: https://gizmodo.com/people-are-shelling-out-six-figures-for-nft-rocks-1847508926

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