Platforms deep pockets luring creators

It’s a great time to be a creator. 

HBO, Amazon, Disney Plus, Apple TV and Netflix have been spreading their cash around in an effort to feed the streaming beast, luring subscribers with a scattershot of content and signing up filmmakers left and right in order to make more of it.

And it seems to be working. 

Disney Plus, which launched in 2019 already has more than 86 million subscribers, a feat helped by its Pixar titles, Lucasfilm and the Marvel franchises – but also driven by the success of Jon Favreau’s Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian, an original series that aired only on Disney Plus. 

Although Favreau doesn’t have an exclusive deal with Disney – he has also worked with Netflix on his food show Chef and likes the freedom of being a free agent – that’s unusual.

Generally speaking if you have a reputation or your indie film has some unexpected success – expect a call.

At the moment it’s a win for both services and creators. 

Having their film on Netflix allows indie filmmakers an immediate global reach.

If you’re a known quantity all the better.

Last year HBO signed up Steven Soderbergh to an exclusive three-year deal to develop original content for HBO and HBO Max.

HBO also snapped up Moonlight director Barry Jenkins in May after Amazon bankrolled the critically acclaimed but little-watched The Underground Railway.

Apple TV+ – without a library of content to draw from has budgeted an estimated $6 billion to beef up its original content and has been busy doing deals with a range of film companies and creators like Lovecraft Country’s Misha Green.

Apple TV+’s best known original – the Jennifer Aniston helmed The Morning Show cost $150 million USD a season according to The Hollywood Reporter, the most expensive series ever until Amazon’s LOTR series started filming here.

The outlay worked creating public awareness of the platform and nabbing The Morning Show three Golden Globe nominations and other awards. 

Unsurprisingly Apple TV+ locked down show runner and writer Kerry Ehrin to a multi-year deal in May.

One of the big gets was Netflix stealing David Benioff and DB Weiss, the Game of Thrones showrunners and writers, away from HBO in 2019 for $200 million USD (their first show is dramedy The Chair starring Sandra Oh which hits the service next month) as well as signing royal defectors Harry and Meghan and comedy star Adam Sandler to multi-year deals.

All up, the service is on schedule to release more than 70 films this year; and if it can’t tie up creators it’s securing distribution rights – as it did with next month’s John David Washington thriller Beckett; or production companies – last month’s deal with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners.

YouTube, Spotify, TikTok, Snapchat and Facebook are also dangling vast amounts of cash before creators.

Spotify, seeing the massive rise in popularity of podcasts, got busy last year and acquired Bill Simmons’ sports and culture company The Ringer last year in a $196 million USD dollar deal. 

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek commented that “What we really did with The Ringer… is we bought the next ESPN.”

Other notable moves included Spotify inking an exclusive deal with right-wing podcaster Joe Rogan, presenting President Obama and Bruce Springsteen’s Renegade podcast and the launch, in April, of a paid subscription service – (an important development as most podcasters now only make money from advertising and endorsements.)

Last year TikTok launched a $200 million USD fund for accounts with more than 10,000 followers.

In May YouTube, no doubt wary of its Chinese rivals’ popularity, ponied up a $100 million USD fund for creators on its Tik Tok-like YouTube Shorts platform which launched in 2020.

Meanwhile Snapchat hands out $1 million USD each day to the most popular videos in its short-form Spotlight service

Facebook’s in the giving game too – announcing it will offer new bonuses to creators making videos on Facebook with in-stream ads enabled. It’s also expanding bonuses through its Stars tipping system.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the new funding was to “reward creators for great content” on his Facebook page.

That follows the announcement last month of Facebook’s new Substack competitor Bulletin with Malcolm Gladwell, Tan France, and popular sportscaster Erin Andrews already signed up to the platform.

Of course it doesn’t always work out as planned.

Black-ish director Kenya Barris recently walked away from his $100 million USD deal with Netflix.

“I just don’t know that my voice is Netflix’s voice,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. 

“The stuff I want to do is a little bit more edgy, a little more highbrow, a little more heady, and I think Netflix wants down the middle.” 

Barris is now in the process of setting up his own studio at BET, but his experience highlights how a talent signed for his unique vision can be pressured into making content that appeals to algorithms rather than an artist’s vision.

Win an Oscar for directing these days (see Nomadland’s Chloe Zhao) and your next gig is likely to be a Marvel movie with a hefty pay-cheque attached.

There are other trade-offs too. A creator who depends on Netflix or Amazon, also risks the service burying their latest content if it doesn’t perform well, making it almost impossible for viewers to find. Yes – they got paid, but the victory is a hollow one.

The shower of cash will also be met with cynicism by creators who, for whatever reason, deal in more niche areas.

The majority of musicians, for example, get very little from the major streaming services – Songtrust calculated that an artist would need over 10 million streams per year to earn the minimum wage.

However Jack Conte, the co-founder and CEO of Patreon, and a man who knows a bit about the trials and tribulations of being a creator, sees reason for optimism.

In an interview with The Verge last month he believes that we’re witnessing the beginning of a rebalancing of the creative economy.

“… while the first 20 years of the web was really about distribution and helping creators figure out how to reach people, the next 20 years of the web is going to be — as a society — rebuilding the financial engine to get creative people paid. I think that’s going to create generations of full-time professional creators.”

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