Can YouTube Fend Off Rivals for Top Influencers?

VidCon
The scene at this year's VidCon convention.

As the Google-owned platform rolls out new moneymaking features, Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok aggressively court creators.

The marine layer was burning off above the Santa Monica Mountains as some 160 influencers descended on Malibu's Calamigos Ranch for the second annual Facebook Creator Day. They snapped shots of the brightly colored entrance tunnel — one of the summit's many "Instagram moments" — before heading inside to nosh on pastries and listen to presentations from creators like David Dobrik and Jay Shetty about building audiences and making money on the social network. 

Facebook had a few updates for them, too, including new ways to take advantage of the platform's 2-year-old revenue-sharing program such as more flexible ad placements and a fan subscription feature. Over the past year, Facebook vp entertainment partnerships Sibyl Goldman has watched creators like Shetty (25 million followers), a motivational speaker, and rapper Prince Ea (15 million followers) take off on the platform. Now, she tells The Hollywood Reporter, she's focused on giving them more tools to help them engage their audiences and understand how their videos are performing. 

The timing of the July 9 event was no coincidence. The next day, thousands of established and aspiring creators converged at the Anaheim Convention Center for the annual VidCon online video gathering, an event that YouTube has dominated since it began 10 years ago. But YouTube is facing more competition for talent than ever before, and that was clear during the four-day VidCon, where every major platform had a creator lounge and panels led by TikTok and Instagram reached capacity.  

Google-owned YouTube is still the most established video platform and the one that boasts the most robust monetization program for creators. But its relationship with creators has been rocky at times, and it's not as easy as it used to be for up-and-coming talent to break out among the thousands of personalities on the platform, not to mention the more exploitative programming that YouTube is working to de-emphasize on its recommendation algorithm.

YouTube has been trying to shore up its relationship with creators by rolling out new moneymaking opportunities — like memberships or merchandise sales — that don't rely on ad sales. During a July 11 VidCon keynote, a staple of the annual festival, chief product officer Neal Mohan talked up features like Super Chat, which allows fans to pay to make their comments more visible during live streams, and introduced new pricing tiers for its Channel Memberships program. 

"We have to support the full range [of creators]," Mohan said in an interview before the presentation. "We do need to cater to these creators who have an entire employee base, make sure that we're growing their revenues and that their revenues are stable. We also need to make sure that the pipeline is there, that our aspiring creators are becoming successful."

But a fickle creator base also has been lured by the prospect of earning money on other apps, including Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, where they couldn't before. Notes longtime digital manager Lisa Filipelli, "It's amazing to see all of the platforms trying to work with creators in a collaborative way."

Snapchat, after years of ignoring creators, has teamed with a handpicked group of digital and traditional talent for original shows. Instagram has yet to introduce a revenue share for video platform IGTV but has said it's a priority. And popular creators are finally starting to make real money on Facebook. Shetty, for instance, earned $1 million on Facebook's Watch video platform in 2018. He posts to YouTube and Instagram, too, but says he has the biggest audience on Facebook. "I just saw my videos gain virality fairly quickly," he explains. Meanwhile, shortform video app TikTok, which doesn't yet have a monetization program for talent, is luring creators through yearlong deals that one rep in the space values as "a healthy L.A. salary."

A version of this story appears in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.