The current double strike in Hollywood, causing significant disruptions, could potentially give a powerful boost to the creator economy. This burgeoning market of online influencers and content creators, including chefs, comedians, models, musicians, and more, has already amassed massive followings on platforms like YouTube and TikTok, despite lacking the resources and support of traditional media outlets.
With American film and TV production at a standstill, studios and producers are seeking to enlist creators to help fill the content void. This has led to tensions over scab work and a shift in storytelling styles. However, striking actors and writers are also exploring new avenues for expression on social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch, which may lead to lasting followings and fame beyond the confines of the traditional entertainment industry.
Historically, Hollywood strikes have triggered significant changes in the media landscape, such as the rise of unscripted content like documentary series and reality TV shows during previous strikes. The ongoing double strike could similarly challenge Hollywood’s established advantages and pave the way for a new generation of stars.
Previously, creators often viewed online virality as a means to break into traditional TV or movie roles. But now, some creators are earning substantial incomes from sponsored content, merchandise sales, and monthly subscriptions, making the uncertainty and unreliability of traditional entertainment less appealing.
Hollywood’s business model is facing increased uncertainty, with declining box office sales, streamer subscriptions, and advertising revenue. The strike has also brought to light issues within the industry, such as high executive salaries, low residual payments, and concerns about artificial intelligence potentially replacing human jobs.
The evolving landscape of entertainment
On the flip side, the online creator industry is experiencing rapid growth. According to Goldman Sachs Research analysts, the market is expected to double in size over the next five years, reaching $250 billion today, driven by increased spending from advertisers, viewers, and tech platforms aiming to capitalize on creators’ viral content.
Streaming services have surpassed cable and broadcast TV in U.S. viewership, with over 37 percent of all TV consumption nationwide being attributed to streaming, and YouTube emerged as the top streaming platform last month, beating out giants like Netflix and Hulu. The platform has become a daily go-to for more than 75 percent of American teenagers, as per Pew Research Center’s findings.
These online platforms have democratized content creation, making it more accessible to people interested in producing their own content, thanks to user-friendly tools provided by platforms like TikTok and Twitch. As a result, there has been fierce creative competition, leading to viral hits and lucrative marketing deals, turning online hobbies into million-dollar revenue streams for some lucky creators.
With the ongoing strike affecting Hollywood, studios and streamers are likely to seek new deals with influencers to fill their release schedules if the stoppage continues for an extended period. However, there are concerns among writers and actors that such deals could undermine the strike, leading to discussions and warnings on platforms like TikTok to discourage “scabbing” jobs.
Nevertheless, it is anticipated that the strike may encourage traditional entertainers to explore becoming creators themselves, utilizing social media to pursue independent projects, gain greater ownership of their work, and showcase aspects of their personality and creativity to attract enduring audiences.
Several actors foresee their social media accounts becoming crucial during this period of limited traditional work, as they explore alternative avenues to monetize their talents. Some have already observed that their income as creators has outperformed their earnings from acting in recent months.
As the strike pushes creators and traditional entertainers alike to explore online platforms further, it is expected that a shift in dynamics will occur, with social media becoming a powerful tool for both groups to connect with their audiences and potentially find new opportunities for monetization and creative expression.
TikTok and YouTube as viable options
Ten years ago, the online creator world was considered a minor sideshow by Hollywood. However, after an unsuccessful attempt to fit digital talent into traditional acting and hosting roles in the early 2010s, the two industries began to develop separate spheres of influence, each with its own stars and styles.
During the pandemic, changes in entertainment habits and the increasing influence of creators have prompted major players in Hollywood to embrace platforms like TikTok and YouTube. Studios now create buzz for their movies and shows by partnering with creators and producing companion podcasts, as seen with HBO’s partnerships for “Succession” and “Game of Thrones.”
Netflix, recognizing the immense growth of TikTok, launched a short-lived video feature called “Fast Laughs” and signed a multimillion-dollar deal with one of its top creators, Addison Rae. Creators’ impact on entertainment has become so significant that the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) allowed creators to join its ranks in 2021 through the “influencer agreement.”
The relationship between Hollywood and the creator economy has become less adversarial, with both sides collaborating across various platforms to build audiences and reputation. Creators offer a different product from traditional Hollywood, focusing less on highly produced stories and more on relatable slices of life. Their content’s quick, free, and easily accessible nature has made it especially appealing to younger audiences.
However, creators often face challenges, such as working alone or in small teams and struggling with funding. Many operate as independent media companies, managing content creation, audience metrics, and brand deals. While some successful creators earn significant incomes through partnerships and subscription platforms, many can’t afford to make content full-time and lack benefits or healthcare.
Strikes of this scale have a lasting impact on the entertainment industry. Previous strikes led to significant changes, such as the inclusion of residuals for actors when their movies were licensed for TV in the 1960s and the rise of reality TV during the 2008 strike, which played a role in shaping the creator economy.
While strikes may benefit reality shows and certain productions filmed overseas, their impact on consumer viewing patterns and the streaming-media landscape remains uncertain. Some believe the creator economy will not replace Hollywood but instead fuel a new era of crossover successes, much like video games have coexisted with traditional entertainment.
SAG-AFTRA sees the creator and Hollywood communities as more similar than different, and the gap between the two is expected to narrow. Unique human creativity remains a key element in both traditional and newer formats of content consumption, whether through YouTube, TikTok, Reels, or in movies.