More than 50 million people worldwide consider themselves to be creators.
Influencer marketing is poised to surpass the $3 billion mark by the end of 2021. Streaming platforms from Netflix to Disney+ (along with every other platform marked with a “+”) to Amazon Prime continue to scale operations globally, diversify offerings beyond TV or movies, and sign top talent to long-term contracts.
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On all fronts and perhaps against some odds, the roughly $20 billion creator economy is thriving—with each creator operating more like a startup than an individual.
Unprecedented times for creators (and everyone else)
As the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world, it also offered a proof of concept for creators streaming content from socially distant living rooms, remote beaches, masked public transportation, and everywhere else.
A disconnected world actually enabled creators the world over to better connect with pandemic-impacted audiences in similar situations. On the back-end, a socially distanced world delivered fresh audiences and heightened user engagement and diverse revenue opportunities for creators mirroring the early days of a startup that secures product-market fit.
This very minute, people are visiting creators on platforms like YouTube, TikTok and Instagram to shop, learn and take breaks from reality. Creators can make millions from corporate endorsements and sponsored posts.
The pandemic has made it clear that there’s strong demand, good money and sustainability in the creator economy. Each individual creator is now a full-fledged business (think: Series A or B startup in many cases) with high growth and ROI potential.
COVID-19’s unfiltered impact on creators
Over the course of the pandemic, Backstage’s own platform—a freelancer marketplace for creators to connect with productions, businesses, brands and marketing agencies—experienced an explosion in the number of brands visiting the site to hire on-camera and voiceover talent for their projects. As social distancing became the new norm, viewers started to look for more content to watch on their devices.
Brands, streaming platforms and traditional entertainment players–especially those looking for cost-effective production–pivoted investment from in-studio, on-location or in-person acting talent to home studio or voice acting talent.
At the same time, we saw a huge increase in individual creators using our platform to hire talent for their own branded projects. Creators are effectively becoming producers, directors and talent managers building their own media startups or creative ventures.
All of these trends launched before the pandemic, but COVID was a true accelerator for snackable, dynamic and creator-filmed/produced/distributed content.
And the creator economy is mirroring America’s pandemic economy with shifts to smaller, lower cost of living cities and pursuing projects outside of traditional media hubs like Hollywood, London and NYC.
At the same time, individual creators have unlocked a greater opportunity than internet notoriety and lengthy follower lists: becoming sustainable ventures with just a social media account or several, a smartphone and good lighting.
Where the creator economy is going
The creator economy’s modest rise to the mainstream has been recently accelerated thanks to rapidly scaling social media platforms and streaming services in response to a significant growth in content demand.
Instead of making million-dollar ads to be placed during prime-time TV shows, brands and agencies are forced to get creative and develop an abundance of content designed to reach audiences across platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Youtube and more. As demand increases, advertisers have started to look for more efficient and economical processes to produce content faster, and at scale—often without knowing exactly how or when people will tune in.
The creator economy’s adaptability and resilience throughout the pandemic bodes well for the industry’s future. As individuals, creators now have multiple paths toward successfully growing from single-channel influencers to multiplatform media startups that offer more sophisticated solutions for brand advertisers while also honing their craft.
Brands, agencies and traditional entertainment players can now turn to the creator economy for talent, inspiration and ROI–to the tune of billions of dollars—something that wasn’t a given even two years ago.
According to Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw, “Creators now make so much money from social media that crossing over isn’t the be-all and end-all. They can make millions of dollars in advertising on YouTube and sponsorships on Instagram. They leverage their audience to start their own clothing or make-up line. And unlike many other creative pursuits, the creator economy has proven pandemic-proof.”
In short, individual creators have become lean startups doubling as vehicles for e-commerce, brand awareness and audience engagement. And the creator economy is now simply a fundamental part of the global economy.
David Grossman is the chief marketing officer of Backstage, a freelancer marketplace that enables productions, brands, marketing agencies and businesses to efficiently discover and work with highly skilled creative talent.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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