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At one time, the biggest entertainment celebrities were Hollywood A-list actors and actresses, and annual events like the Academy Awards were must-watch TV for anyone who wanted to understand the current cultural zeitgeist. But for the past decade, social media has been chipping away at the content and cultural dominance of Hollywood. In fact, two academics (Stuart Cunningham and David Craig) who have extensively tracked the rise of social media have even coined a new term – social media entertainment – to describe an entirely new form of entertainment that originated with social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram.
The end of Hollywood as we know it
In many ways, social media entertainment provides much more of a risk to Hollywood than other forms of new content – such as original programming from the likes of Netflix and Amazon. That’s because the people creating social media content are “next gen creators,” and they think, act and create content much differently than the traditional Hollywood A-lister. Take for example, Gigi Gorgeous, a beautiful blonde transgender beauty blogger with 2.9 million subscribers on YouTube. In 2017, TIME magazine named Gigi Gorgeous one of the Top 25 most influential people of the year.
With all due respect to top Hollywood actresses – how do you compete with someone like Gigi Gorgeous? As a Hollywood actress, you might only have one film coming out each year, and if it duds at the box office on the first weekend, it might never gain nationwide distribution. With new films coming out each week in Hollywood (and also on Netflix and Amazon Prime), it’s hard to stay top-of-mind after the initial late night talk show circuit ends in a week. Most people don’t actually watch films in the movie cinema anymore, and even around “awards show time,” even film buffs often admit they don’t even recognize all the big, iconic films that the top studios are pushing.
Now contrast that scenario that to someone like an A-list beauty blogger, who has multiple touch points throughout the day and throughout the week with fans. Every YouTube video from Gigi Gorgeous, for example, picks up more than 100,000 views. It offers a fascinating insight into someone’s life that is simply not possible with a traditional star. It’s gotten to a point, in fact, where it’s just as likely you’ll see a billboard ad for a YouTube creator on the Sunset Strip as a billboard ad for a top Hollywood celebrity. Advertisers recognize this as well, and are shifting their ad buys to digital platforms like YouTube.
Hollywood fights back
So what can Hollywood do to stop its epic decline from the cultural mainstream? One solution might be to embrace social media influencers with huge Hollywood crossover appeal. In other words, find new types of stars – such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – who can crossover well between the worlds of social media and entertainment. Best of all, these new types of Hollywood stars come with tens of millions of their own fans on social media, making it much easier to promote and market their new film projects. The Rock, for example, now has 169 million followers on Instagram, and prominently displays ticket info for his new “Jumanji” movie right in his profile.
One thing is certain – if Hollywood wants to remain relevant culturally, then it needs to accept that social media has forever changed the entertainment industry. The old “business model” was for great actors and actresses to appear in blockbuster movies and then develop a social media following later. The new business model is for social media influencers to develop such a huge, loyal following that Hollywood must reach out to them to help sell and promote their movies – and sometimes, even cast them in their movies.