Fame’s Dose of Democratization

by Ethan Kurzweil and Cecilia Stallsmith - RECODE.NET

The fame game is changing. Sure, when a superstar like Jennifer Lawrence wears a memorable outfit on a Wednesday night, it trends in our Facebook feeds by Thursday morning. Movie star Lawrence is the very definition of famous. Millions of people have seen her face and watched her perform, and she wields tremendous influence in all that she does, with fans following her every haircut and wardrobe change.

But what about Colleen Ballinger? Have you heard her name? She also has millions of followers — mostly for her character, Miranda Sings — and millions of people have watched her perform, too, despite the fact that no major producer has ever cast her in a feature film. Ballinger is not a traditional star, but she’s famous nonetheless. Why? YouTube.

And she’s not the only one. Look at Robby Ayala on Vine or Jerome Jarre, whose claim to fame is an ever-expanding corpus of Snapchat Stories. These performers are on their way to becoming just as famous as Jennifer Lawrence, without even the slightest help from the Hollywood machine. And with every passing day, they are turning Hollywood’s elitist — some might even say, obsolete — “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” mentality on its head.

In the popular book and movie “Moneyball,” Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane turns baseball upside down by recognizing what few others had: That talent was being judged subjectively based on antiquated methods of evaluating impact and potential, and key indicators were being overlooked. Beane built a highly successful baseball squad out of a collection of supposed “misfits,” using forgotten and misunderstood statistics to do so.

We are now living in an age of “Moneyball” fame. Nebulous celebrity “stats” — like beauty, charisma and presence — are outdated as singular predictors of financial success. In their place, we have metrics like reach, engagement, shares, snaps, tweets, favorites, subscribers and time viewed (and in the case of Snapchat, tapped). These are the statistics of the future, as they are already better predictors of fame and monetization potential than the most discerning agent’s eye.

While Will Smith may still be a huge draw on the big screen, Robby Ayala is catching up fast and can actually prove it: Everything he does can be quantified, from total views and amount of time watched to sentiment, “Likes,” subscribers and reactions to a new post. These simple but telling indicators can help agents find the rising stars, and will eventually show advertisers where and how to spend their dollars.

Making it as an entertainer used to mean a grueling path of drama school, comedy clubs, casting calls, readings and media interviews. Today, the task is much simpler, yet demonstrably harder: Produce content that people watch — and watch ravenously. Power is moving away from major studios and publishers and into the hands of the creators and the technology platforms that enable them. Fame is becoming democratized.

The diagram below shows this shift. On the left is the old model. A lot of “normal” people have a “normal” amount of influence (read: not much), followed by a number of highly influential politicians, athletes, artists and stars as you move to the right of the graph — and not much in between. On the right is what’s happening today. The curve has a new and more powerful mid-tail and among this group, there is a demonstrable rise in overall influence. Any person in the world with an Internet connection and a camera has the potential to reach millions.

With the new bump comes an emerging economy. In this sphere, the traditional media methods deployed by agencies, production studios and advertisers are increasingly less relevant. An agency is now a multi-channel network managing thousands and tracking every millisecond of creator content. The studio is now a 15-year-old’s backyard, bedroom or YouTube’s new creator space in LA. Advertising is now in the hands of MCNs, or is increasingly being turned into a marketplace like PopularPays or Famebit.

Furthermore, in this new economy, brand marketing and direct response marketing will converge. Creator promotion can and will produce incredible direct response results and positive brand affinity. This is already happening now: Makeup giant L’Oreal spends a set amount on creator marketing on YouTube, yielding fantastic results. To promote its Redken hair product line, it recently struck a partnership with Tina Lee’s YouTube channel, Makeup Wearables Hairstyles. With the help of FameBit, they produced a branded video for “4 easy lazy hairstyles for winter” that boasts more than 500,000 views, 6,500 Likes, a CPV of $0.01, and has resulted in plenty of product sold directly through its website — good old-fashioned direct-response marketing.

And when Tina Lee’s audience sees her using and trusting L’Oreal, her followers have a positive association with the brand — similar to LeBron James’s fans with Gatorade. In this way, brand marketing and direct response marketing work in concert to drive actionable and measurable results — increasing awareness, brand affinity and purchase intent in the process.

It’s not just brands and advertisers reaping rewards. Fame results in fortune: Look at PewDiePie, a YouTube star whose videos of himself playing and commenting on video games earned him $7 million in 2014.

Technology has changed the road to stardom. Fame has been democratized, and a new economy is following this shift. As quickly as we are witnessing the rise of new stars, new businesses and business models are emerging that benefit from these tectonic shifts. Social media celebrities are here to stay, and a new market is blooming in their wake. It is ripe for advertisers, entrepreneurs, innovators, investors and, most importantly, good old-fashioned fame and fortune.

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