I’m still watching that
It’s been brutal out there for streaming platforms this year, as losses are weighed and staff cut.
And yet, in July streaming overtook cable TV viewership for the first time ever. And there, playing in the background, is TikTok.
A decade ago, YouTubers and Vine stars were pitched as the new stars of Hollywood, but TikTok has blazed through its growth cycle at hyperspeed, comparatively. There used to be a YouTube-to-streaming pipeline for popular creators, but that looks a little different with TikTok.
Two of TikTok’s most-followed creators edged into streaming last year: Addison Rae landed a lucrative Netflix deal, and Charli D’Amelio went to Hulu with The D’Amelio Show. Other well-known creators like Enkyboys, Brittany Broski, and Nathan Apodaca have transitioned to TV and movies as well, thanks to the app’s astronomical reach.
Amazon started up its own influencer program, in hopes of getting TikTok and YouTube stars; Instagram is scrambling to connect with influencers and celebs, as it predictably pivots to video. NBCUniversal launched a program that gives 11 popular TikTokers a chance to pitch their own original series.
But TikTok’s growth has far outpaced YouTube (and Instagram and Facebook). And the pipeline has expanded. Can TikTok creators being plucked from the platform and made into traditional TV or film stars still be the model of success?
Does Hollywood have to be the end game?
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The pandemic star
In May, TikTok released its first Showbiz List, a showcase for 33 creators in 11 categories, meant to signal who might be ready for the jump to Hollywood. Catherine Halaby, TikTok’s head of entertainment partnerships, says the list was meant to spotlight creators who’ve been “successful finding an audience.”
One of those creators was Madelaine Turner (@madelaineturner) who went viral in May 2020 with a Wes Anderson pandemic parody. When we spoke to her then, she told the Daily Dot that she joined TikTok because of quarantine boredom. Now, the 28-year-old jokes that she “used TikTok to con my way into a career in the film industry.”
Turner, who now has more than 514,000 followers on the app, is working on a TV pilot as well as a feature film, though she can’t say much about either. She shot a commercial for Dolby, and last year did one for Licorice Pizza. She says for the latter, director Paul Thomas Anderson personally signed off on the TikTok after viewing her work.
getting ready for my first day at Euphoria High
During the early part of the pandemic, a lot of creatives started joining TikTok and making their own short films or remakes as a way to alleviate boredom.
For her first TikTok, creator Julianne Chryst (@juliannesmovies) “found some props in my room and decided to start filming Rocky,” she tells the Daily Dot.
Her third video, a recreation of Nacho Libre, was the first to go viral. Last September, she was invited to L.A. by Netflix to hang out on the Red Notice set and create content with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. She also did some content for Netflix Geek’s socials.
Chryst, 26, now has more than 127,000 followers, and many of her more recent videos are breakdowns of Marvel shows like She-Hulk, Hawkeye, and Loki, which she says typically do well because they’re weekly shows.
“I love acting and I would love to be in a TV show,” Chryst says. “That would probably be the number one dream. But I think almost any job on set would be really fun because when you make your own videos you are your own director, producer, costume designer… and I love the process.”
Both Chryst and Turner are multi-hyphenates, and Chryst sees TikTok as a “living, breathing resume” for potential employers.
Is there a time when TikTok will be where we’re watching feature films and series?
“I think we’ll always want our feature films to be large and immersive,” Turner says, “and I think what TikTok is really good for is that short little bite-sized content.”
The streamers bite
While most of the major streamers have a TikTok presence, Halaby says Netflix is the one doing TikTok right. She cites Stranger Things, Never Have I Ever, and The Umbrella Academy as original shows that have resonated on TikTok.
“I think Netflix just has so much to work with but they’ve also been really smart about how they show up on the platform,” she says.
Its official account has more than 31 million followers and though the streamer lost 1 million subscribers in the first six months of 2022, Stranger Things season 4 reportedly saved it from losing more. It launched two 30-year-old songs back onto the charts, and made TikTok stars of new characters. Other cast members, like Noah Schnapp, made content out of carefully timed controversy.
Fan campaigns and film criticism has also flourished. This summer, original movie Purple Hearts went viral largely because of TikTok, though more because of the love story between leads Sofia Carson and Nicholas Galitzine than the pro-military message.
“There’s always the X factor of talent on platform,” Halaby says of Carson, who already had millions of followers on TikTok before Purple Hearts.
A decade ago, channels like AwesomenessTV swept up teen YouTube stars into original series. Smaller platforms like Verizon’s ill-fated go90 popped up a few years later, and the latter half of the 2010s was populated by comedy-centric platforms like Seeso and Super Deluxe.
But TikTok, and the rise of media-merged streaming platforms, has created a very different landscape.
Ryan Detert is CEO of Influential, an AI platform that pairs influencers with brands. He doesn’t work directly with getting influencers into TV or streaming, but he sees a shift.
“You’re seeing a change in where people’s screens are,” he says. “They’re spending time on social networks and not spending time as much watching linear TV. So we’re seeing these creators are actually more famous, more well-known in their audience spaces than linear, regular TV stars.
“We’re seeing an inverse shift. It was: You’re famous, get followers. Now it’s: You have followers, let’s make you linearly famous.”
TikTok’s had an interesting function as a springboard for summer movie trends: Top Gun: Maverick went viral via TellerTok; Baz Luhrmann used TikTok to promote Elvis; and Minions: The Rise of Gru got a bump from the #Gentleminions trend.
It’s done the same for TV: Three stars of Riverdale have a joint TikTok account where they do popular dances or trends on set. A January TikTok of Euphoria’s Angus Cloud smashing a bottle over co-star Jacob Elordi’s head has more than 48 million views, and Euphoria memes dominated TikTok earlier this year. The conversation around The White Lotus season 2 noticeably moved from Twitter to TikTok. Dahmer and Wednesday both saw a boost thanks to the app.
Some streamers might fear that TikTok will replace streaming, but Sylvia George, who does marketing for AMC, told Vox that users often sign up for streaming services because of TikTok ads or promo, and that it hasn’t been a threat to streaming services like many thought it might.
The expanding pipeline
Being in TV shows or movies isn’t the only end goal: Reece Feldman (@guywithamoviecamera) offers followers behind-the-scenes footage from his job as a production assistant, and has essentially become popular for doing his job. Feldman has more than 1.4 million followers.
@guywithamoviecamera if anyone has romantic interest in “Jewish Linguini” kindly lmk 😗 #ratatouille #halloweekend ♬ original sound – Random Memes and Stuff
He and other creators were brought on to create content around this year’s Oscars, and he also hosted the 2022 Emmys red carpet. But Feldman’s known for behind-the-scenes content, posting from the sets of Hulu’s Not Okay, Amazon’s Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and the upcoming Paramount+ Scream sequel.
He has a keen eye for pairing popular stars with TikTok trends that will hit, and routinely gets millions of views of his videos.
“It is nice when studios hire me and can openly admit that they do not always fully understand this ‘TikTok thing,’” Feldman, 24, tells the Daily Dot. “And thus are willing to let me experiment and create content that I not only want to make, but content that I would love to see as a movie lover. I’ve noticed that the partnerships where I am given creative liberty result in the most successful videos and social campaigns.”
Feldman says he enjoys acting—he briefly appears as himself in Not Okay—but that’s not his “priority” right now: “My immediate goal is to write and direct stories of my own.” He was announced as part NBCUniversal’s creator accelerator program in October.
“While TikTok has not changed the definition of ‘success’ in the industry,” Feldman says, “it has changed the way I thought I could get there.”
That’s clearly the case for a lot of creators: TikTok is an important step in the star-making process now, but TV and film don’t have to be the end game. You can be a multi-hyphenate, in various genres. The foundational issue, however, is that while creators might want to make that jump to streaming, the potential viewers aren’t watching traditional TV or streaming—they’re watching TikTok.
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