New streaming show 'StartUp' rides bitcoin, fintech crazes


Call it a case of art imitating life.

The shadowy world of computer hackers, long an object of fascination in movies and popular culture, may be about to take a new leap as an entertainment vehicle. As hackers, anonymous data leaks and cyber intrigue fill real-world headlines, a new television show called "StartUp," featuring similar themes, launches on Tuesday — but with an added twist.

The 10-episode drama will debut on Sony Pictures' streaming platform Crackle, and centers around three strangers who find themselves enmeshed in a digital currency scheme (hello, bitcoin!) while fighting the FBI. "StartUp," which includes actors Martin Freeman and Adam Brody, has already released its first episode for viewers to watch on Reddit.

GenCoin, the fictional digital currency used in the show, loosely represents bitcoin, currently world's largest digital currency. Given that it's difficult to regulate and trace, some say it's an ideal vehicle for criminal activity such as money laundering.

Brian Stoeckert, of Stratis Advisory and a risk management and money laundering expert, served as a consultant to the show in an effort to inject the narrative with accuracy. He explained to CNBC in a recent interview that the idea of a cryptocurrency is still relatively unknown to the broader public.

"People have heard about digital currency, but they really don't understand how it operates. They just see it on the headlines," Stoeckert told CNBC. "This is one way they can follow a story line and get a unique perspective on it," he added.

Cranes are seen against the skyline as condo's are built in Miami, Florida.
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"StartUp" is launching at an auspicious time. Actual trading volume in digital currency has surged to records this year, according to data from Bitcoinity, while cybersecurity has arguably never been a hotter topic.

Last year, cyberspending soared past $75 billion, according to research firm Gartner, fueling growth for a relatively new industry and prompting everything from new jobs to countless headaches for companies fighting to stay secure. A large chunk of that spending has been devoted to financial technology, or fintech, which has more than doubled recently. According a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, fintech start-up funding hit $12 billion alone in 2016.

That breakneck growth in digital currency trading and cybersecurity may boost the fortunes of "StartUp," which shows the underbelly of a world played out largely in front of computer screens, mobile devices and other technology staples.

Set in Brickell, a neighborhood in downtown Miami, the creators are seeking to differentiate between the obvious backdrop of Silicon Valley — already pioneered by shows like HBO's "Silicon Valley." Brickell has had a long history linked to money laundering, which also plays a role in "StartUp's" narrative.

Stoeckert hopes the entertainment from the show will ultimately give the general audience exposure to an unfamiliar segment of the market.

"A significant amount of investment has been poured into digital currencies and there's some scenarios where there is a dark market," Stoeckert said. "Criminals are always on the lookout to move money beyond the traditional way and the show is about mingling all of that together."