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Creators are the new currency. And they are a commodity in increasingly high demand.
As digital influencers keep gaining in popularity, companies like YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok are increasingly leaning in and betting that their pathway to growth lies with these independent content producers.
“From our standpoint, the velocity of the creator economy today has made things completely undeniable to the rest of the world,” YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We see this as a completely new space that got opened up, that has brought incredible creativity that was not something we could really imagine previously.”
And the tech giants are putting their money where their mouths are, committing hundreds of millions of dollars to support, create and entice creators to produce for their platforms.
At the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s virtual NewFronts marketplace from May 3 to 7, presentations were a stark contrast to just a few years ago, when YouTube was betting its future on scripted fare like the Karate Kid sequel Cobra Kai (which has since landed at Netflix), and Snapchat unveiled a slate of a dozen scripted shows spanning the genres drama, horror and fantasy.
Why the shift? TikTok, the red-hot mobile app, explained it in a sizzle reel that ran during its May 6 presentation. As Olivia Rodrigo’s song “drivers license” played (a song propelled to the top of the Billboard charts in part due to its success on the platform), some of the year’s viral TikToks filled the screen, alongside a message: “Traditionally, a select few have defined culture. But not anymore. Enter TikTok.”
“The power of TikTok is in our community, and how they engage with brands and creators. Brands want to be a part of the cultural moments,” said Sandie Hawkins, GM of U.S. business solutions for TikTok. And as “shoppable” technology proliferates, creators aren’t just about making content that drives users to the grocery store or Amazon, but about getting them to buy products within the app or video ecosystem at the same moment they tout them.
“[Ecommerce] is massively important to the success of any client that is in business right now. Period,” says Condé Nast global chief revenue officer Pamela Drucker Mann. “In many cases, this can be their number one distribution channel. Show them an option that helps them unlock ecommerce revenue, whether that is in video or anywhere else, that is going to be a priority for them.”
Condé Nast is in the midst of a shoppable push of its own on platforms like TikTok. In its presentation, TikTok highlighted how it drove sales of Ocean Spray cranberry juice and American Eagle exercise pants alongside the hashtag “#TikTokMadeMeBuyIt.”
“Craig [Brommers], the CMO of American Eagle, told us the leggings sell out every time they restock,” says Sophia Hernandez, the head of TikTok U.S. business marketing.
It’s a message that is clearly resonating with marketers. Snapchat used its May 5 event to unveil a “Creator Marketplace” that ultimately will connect brands to the platform’s creative talent.
“We want to give creators a chance to enjoy a living on the platform,” says Snap Inc. vp sales for the Americas Peter Naylor. “And for Snap, it means more advertising partners can produce and execute compelling creative on Snapchat without the need for extensive resources.”
YouTube, meanwhile, sought to retake control of the creator narrative, leaning into its history and sheer scale to secure marketing dollars earmarked for creators.
“It is something that we just feel incredibly proud to have pioneered, and continue to lead in,” Kyncl says of the creator economy.
The focus on creators continues even to the original programs commissioned by the video platforms. Scripted shows were mostly sidelined this year in favor of unscripted fare, and prominent creators were front and center.
Snapchat’s new shows were fronted by Grammy-winning rapper Megan Thee Stallion as well as popular creators Charli and Dixie D’Amilio. YouTube’s originals included a kids’ show led by creator “Guava Juice,” and one from environmentalist Jack Harries. YouTube’s biggest new show, Best Shape of My Life, stars Will Smith, a world-famous celebrity but also a YouTube creator with 9.3 million subscribers, as the company was eager to highlight.
“We love anybody who embraces the platform,” Kyncl says. “They can come from anywhere, it can be someone like [creator] Liza Koshy, or someone like Will Smith. It is about their attitude and their leaning into the platform and connection to the audiences.”
But in a world with multiple scaled platforms, creators can’t be taken for granted, and even digital juggernauts have to fight for the next generation of talent.
A version of this story first appeared in the May 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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