Last week, it was big news that Charli D’Amelio had reached 100 million followers on TikTok. That’s more people than some even large movies get. Just 16 years old, producing her own content and distributing it on TikTok. I figured it was time to delve into the sector of social media entertainment.
In this article. I’m taking you along on an exploration of the production part of the social media entertainment. The creator management is unique, so it certainly worth to dive into. Let’s start!
What is social media entertainment?
The entertainment sector was destined for a long time for a live audience. Then came the broadcast audience in the 20th century. The 21st century has brought a new industry of entertainment. In the last two decades, the internet has developed and people have jumped on the train, making a new form of entertainment. Social media entertainment came into existence, the term created by Stuart Cunningham and David Craig.
Of course, the internet also has consequences on other forms of entertainment. Think about performances whose recordings are now put online or the entire movement from cinema to video-streaming platforms. But we will ignore that for now. Those are adjustments to an already existing industry and I want to talk about the new industry. Want to read more about the entertainment industry? Read my article with an analysis of the industry here.
YouTube was created in 2005, which I see as the start of the social media entertainment industry. It was the first platform where you could create something and earn revenue in return. In 2006, just a year after it got released, it already got around 100 million videos uploaded per day. In July 2015, users uploaded more than 400 hours of video per minute to the website. Nowadays it has more than two billion users. It created the invention of vloggers, influencers and online game players. But we have more platforms. In 2020, we have Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Twitch, TikTok and more who continue this new generation of entertainers. The social media entertainment industry is huge. On how many social media platforms are you?
So when I talk about social media entertainment, I’m talking about entertainment created on the social media platforms by new (individual) creators. Those creators make unique, new content for a large audience, available for all.
What is creator management?
I mentioned creator management in the introduction. Let’s talk a bit more about what it means within the social media entertainment. Of course, we know what a creator is: someone who creates something. Creators in the entertainment sector are people who create something artistically. The cultural world calls them artists.
In the social media entertainment, you can call the creators Youtubers, influencers, content creators, live streamers, TikTok’ers, Instagrammers or – in China – Wang Hung. Think about Charli D’Amelio who reached her 100 millionth follower on TikTok with creating short videos about her life: she is a true TikTok’er. For a long time, Zoe Sugg (under the name Zoella) was one of the biggest YouTubers with more than 10 million followers, while she shared videos about make-up and her life.
In 2018, it was estimated that about 15 million online creators had some revenue from these online platforms in the US alone. But this varies from a few dollars to a full income and more. That same year, the estimated value of the influencer economy on only Instagram in the US was around 1 million dollars and 50 billion dollars worldwide. So you can see how big this social media entertainment industry has become.
How do they differ from other forms of entertainment?
The social media creators are different from the ‘traditional’ forms of entertainment. I already mentioned that before social media entertainment, we had live entertainment and broadcast/movie entertainment. It’s quite funny that David Craig calls this new entertainment industry the Post-Hollywood or PoHo, regarding the film business.
Usually, there is just one platform on which the created product is shown: in the theatre, on television, the cinema, but not on social media. Now, within the social media entertainment the content is created on multiple platforms at once and they are also connected with each other. These individuals are often creators on multiple platforms, with one platform as their main channel. D’Amelio uses TikTok as her main platform, but she also has Instagram with 34 million followers and Twitter (almost 5 million) to connect with her audience. Zoe Sugg started with a blog but moved to YouTube as her main channel when she noticed videos were doing very good. Nowadays, she can mostly be found on Instagram, using YouTube as a supporting platform.
The creators connect their content between the multiple platforms. It kind of acknowledges what social media stands for: its network effect. And creators make use of it as the technology for all these platforms is available for them, it strengthens their network effects with the fans (more on this later) and it broadens the possibility for more income.
Interesting in this new form of creator management is that most creators are also the producers, the editors, the directors and the distributors. They self-manage a whole production chain, from creation to post-production, but they are also the community manager for their followers and media entrepreneurs. They often got these skills by practice and earlier hobbyism. If you take a look at their first video ever created, it often resembles amateur creations which gets more professional with time. The creators do get some help from the platforms themselves, who over things like programming advertising, influencer marketing, crowd-funding, virtual goods, e-commerce, performance fees and media transactions.
Creators work outside of the formations traditional in media organisations. They have cultivated new formats, genres (think about gameplays, DIY tutorials and shopping hauls) and modalities. Their content is often less scripted and more discursive and quasi-improvisational. Especially vlogging and live-streaming need a different approach from traditional practises, in both preparation and production and posting.
Also new is the community management and how much involved the audience is. The audience has always been important: if you go to a theatre play twice, you will see two different reactions of the audience and two different reactions of the actors on the audience. But now, in the social media entertainment, the audience is actively asked to be involved. Creators ask for their input, what they would be interested to see, asking them to comment on videos or pictures and more. In return, the creators also respond to their fans by commenting, sharing, reading and liking what their fans share online or send to them. And this part may take up to 50 per cent of the creators time, as the audience is also the one who makes sure the creator gets his or her revenue. Social media entertainment is a new business model, where networking is central to make commercial value.
The next different is intellectual property. Usually, it is very strictly written down by a lawyer, each creator getting a share or royalty. But online, this is much looser. We know the creator/influencer and that it’s his intellectual property, but we can share it, don’t have to pay royalties for it, we can also use it and make our own content from it to monetize (think about fan-based videos who don’t get copyrighted). The creator does not have a lawyer putting his creation on paper first. If it’s a group of creators, it’s up to them to divide the income, as YouTube sees each account as one collective.
Lastly, I want to mention the funding of these creators. Usually, in the traditional forms, the production company or creators will have funding from big sponsors, subsidy or from the distributor who will broadcast/stream the product. They first have their money and then start creating. Creators on social media don’t work on commissions or such, so they have to find other ways to get funding for the products and to continue.
Most creators will first make their product and then make money. They get some revenue for their videos, based on the number of views if they allow ads to play before/during their videos. Many gain a large amount of their income by promoting products in their own creations (so called branded content deals) and by selling their own merchandise. You can often buy clothing with their brand on it. And then, there are also other options like crowdfunding for a specific project or by giving a monthly subscription on Patreon if you want to support the creators. While most only receive little revenue, some influencers make thousands of dollars.
So what makes social media entertainment so different from traditional ways? Well, what you probably noticed most, it’s much more flexible. As the creator does everything him- or herself, he or she has full control over the production and the distribution of it. This also means that less is put down in black and white and that the creator can change products to move towards their audience’s wishes. And a big difference is the role of the audience, who really have a say in the products of the creators. It’s not uncommon for influencers to ask their fans what they want to see or ask their opinion and then let it come back in another video.
Are there similarities with more traditional entertainment?
Yes, there are.
Although the creators have multiple functions, some things are also stolen from other traditional entertainment industries. Most social media platforms have introduces some kind of creator management system and creator academies. Creators can manage their products there and learn more about the platform and how to improve their products. There has also been an introduction of talent agents, who went from film actors to also influencers. There are companies that the creators can hire for parts of their creation or management of it in exchange for a part of their revenue. If you have an agent, chances are you will also soon be seen on TV or other big channels. So this is similar to the TV and film industry.
And then -Of course – there are cross-overs. There are TV, film and musical theatre stars who are also big on YouTube or YouTube stars who are now known for the offline-audience. An example is Carrie Hope Fletcher, who is not only an influencer on YouTube and Instagram, but she is also an author of multiple books and an actress on West-End. She mixed offline jobs and online creator a lot: for example, you can see her putting backstage material of musicals she plays in on her social media.
For an illustration the other way around we can take Joe Sugg. The brother of Zoe Sugg – mentioned earlier – started on YouTube, but joined a few television shows like Strictly Come Dancing, which has earned him a role in Waitress in West End, a podcast for Strictly and some small roles on TV. Zoe Sugg herself is also interesting, as she got the opportunity to write several books and to get her own line in cosmetics, perfume and spa treatments.
The third similarity are the creators of other entertainment industries. Nowadays, there are many creators and producers who make content for both TV, film and social media. And I don’t mean short videos to support another medium (short ads, etc.), but really unique content. An example is ‘The Lizzie Bennet’s Diary’, where Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was adapted into 100 videos on YouTube as if we follow Lizzie Bennet’s digital diary. The company behind it hired real actors and used YouTube as a sort TV platform for their product. The freedom social media offer is attractive for other creatives and producers and they start discovering the possibilities as well.
To wrap it up
I hope this makes it clear for you. Maybe you already knew all of it, maybe it’s completely new. I think it’s important to understand how social media creators are a part of the entertainment industry, although we still struggle to make it part of showbiz. As it’s only 15 years old in 2020, maybe it needs some more time to be taken seriously and to be included in the big world of entertainment by the professionals.
I realise that I’ve mostly been talking about videos. There are other creations on social media, like podcasts, that are definitely part of the social media entertainment. However, I don’t know much about it and if you’re interested for me to write a piece about it, just let me know in the comments below. It’s a very broad genre and I’ve just described the tip of the iceberg.