In December, a pack of widely followed Vine stars made their way to Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters for an unprecedented meeting. These stars, who helped propel Vine to popularity by creating a unique brand of entertainment to fit its short, looping format, wanted to finally get paid for their work. Other social networks had plans in the works to pay content creators, and these Viners wanted in too. It was a bit of a watershed moment: After years of the platform acting as supreme ruler, the leverage was beginning to shift.
In the meeting, the stars sent a message to Twitter: Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat all want our videos too; cut us a check if you want to keep us. "We made Vine a cultural phenomena," one of the Vine stars in attendance told BuzzFeed News. "We would like to finally make a living off of the platform."
The meeting displayed something new that major social companies are now starting to reckon with: Very few people, relatively speaking, are capable of regularly creating compelling videos that others want to watch. And as social platforms look to saturate their feeds with video — live or otherwise — rather than just pictures and text, they're essentially competing for the same limited set of good videos. So those who create the quality stuff can demand payment.
In recent weeks, those payments have begun flowing. Twitter and Facebook both started handing out multimillion-dollar wads of cash to bring quality video content to their platforms. Twitter announced earlier this month that it would spend millions to stream 10 NFL games during the 2016 NFL season. And Facebook is offering six-figure checks to celebrities who agree to use its live-streaming product. Periscope’s CEO, in an interview, wouldn’t rule out paying content creators down the road either. When those Vine stars marched into Twitter’s Market Street headquarters in San Francisco demanding financial compensation for their work, it wasn’t an outlier. It was the new normal.
“In video we are seeing just how hard it is to make great content people watch on a recurring basis,” Josh Elman, a partner at venture capital firm Greylock Partners who has invested in the live-streaming app Meerkat, told BuzzFeed News. “Given that, the platforms are starting to compete for those hundreds or thousands of creators who can do that, rather than hoping just anyone can become a star.”
The Vine stars’ demand in their meeting with Twitter was similar to the demands TV content companies make during negotiations. Viacom, for example, last week threatened to remove its content (including Comedy Central and MTV) from Dish Network if the satellite provider didn't fork up more cash for the rights to air it. If Dish didn't pay, Viacom’s “blackout” would make Dish’s competitors more attractive to the market. Dish agreed to fee increases, and Viacom remains on the network.
Multichannel video programming distributors — Comcast, Verizon, Dish Network, DirecTV, and more — transmit programming into people’s living rooms. But they pay content producers and programmers to fill the airwaves so they don’t have 1,000 channels of public access town hall meetings. Sound familiar? Just substitute Twitter for Dish and Vine stars for Viacom. The social platforms don’t want to fill their feeds with hours of boring video either.
In the digital world, social platforms are the content conduits to the masses, and the power relationship between them and content creators is similar. Ultimately, people care about good content, not who distributes it.