Despite the pandemic (and widespread criticism), famous TikTokers are partying in large groups in mansions in the Hollywood Hills- in the name of their livelihoods.
“Our jobs are to entertain people… We live with groups of people, and we are all intertwined for work. We can’t put our entire lives on hold for a year and not make any money.” Thomas Petrou, Hype House Founder in the NY Times
This sparked our interest this week in the business of TikTok, and what it means for content creators in the short and long term. This 52INSIGHTS explores the function of TikTok house drama and how TikTok creators are making their livelihoods from fans.
TIKTOK AS REALITY TV
“Many in the online creator space believe we’re only in the early stages of a significant shift in the entertainment landscape, and the first wave of Gen Z talent is just beginning to emerge...The boundaries between the online influencer world and reality TV are porous.” Taylor Lorenz, NY Times
Groups of young TikTok creators are co-living in houses (such as Hype House which has over 18.4 million followers) together. The idea behind this is to collaborate and enable faster growth on the platform by promoting one another’s channel. It’s also about connection and support in a focused, hyper-productive environment. While houses are set up as ‘business’ breeding grounds, personal lives are the backbone of their current success.
In these houses, for the most part, are groups of teens (17/18/19) and adults in their very early 20s, with BIG personalities. It’s phenomenal how much these creators, described by some as the ‘Lauren Conrads of their generation,’ are impacting youth culture - even Kourtney Kardashian (42 with 3 kids) has befriended TikTok super influencer Addison Rae (19-year-old formerly of the Hype House), and have created numerous videos together. This is just one example that illustrates the real influence of TikTok and how it is becoming the new form of reality TV…
It is the drama that surrounds these TikTok houses that makes it so appropriate to compare its cultural influence to that of traditional reality TV (and arguably its influence is so much more than this because of the interactive nature of the TikTok platform). Paparazzi are even camping outside houses like Sway House, in the way they used to do with more traditional celebrities. Why? TikTok drama is feeding content around the content. Since the beginning, these houses have been drenched in drama - the content on individuals’ actual TikTok page is only one thing, the actual content being created is all the stuff that happens around the house. If you think about watching the ‘TV show’ of the Hype House or Sway House, young fans watch the show across a number of platforms and in various mediums.
“Today, there’s a third or fourth screen based on viewers on phones switching between different apps. They go back and forth between IG Live and TikTok and Twitter accounts, it’s almost like each fan is on their own choose your own adventure. They come up with their own narrative around these characters in each story.” Warren Lentz, CEO, TalentX (management company behind Sway House).
The content goes way beyond just the TikTok platform on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and in media. There’s even talk about a traditional TV show. Drama abound (fueled by conspiracy theories, fan adoration and 'scripted' reality moments designed to break the Internet), here's a taster of the kinds of feuds and rivalries happening in the TikTok world:
- The TikTokalypse
- Addison Rae leaving the Hype House
- Nessa Barret and LilHuddy’s kiss
- Sway House exposing Hype House drama
To get more of an idea of how TikTok drama is manifesting and shaping pop culture conversations (and digital content creation), check out channels like the TikTok Shaderoom, which reports trending gossip, tea and general updates.
MERCH & MONETISING TIKTOK LIVE
All of this drama is beneficial from a monetary perspective - more eyes on them, more money on their TikTok lives and merch...
By now most people know what TikTok is, generally, how it works, and how creators are becoming successful on it. What’s been fascinating to see evolve over time with the platform is the shift in how influencers with big followings on TikTok are making money. What we are seeing from Gen Z content creators is that they are likely to generate revenue directly from fans and won't necessarily rely as much on brands for their income.
This is unique when it comes to the TikTok ‘Go Live’ feature - similar to Instagram Live - where TikTokers can make a max of $10,000 every time they go live. It’s enabled creators to rely on fans rather than brands to pay their livelihoods directly. How? Fans donating money. If you’re a TikTok user you can pay a couple of hundred bucks to be able to send ‘digital gifts’ as ‘tips’ via the platform. In order to get these digital gifts, you first purchase ‘coins’ which are then added to your account. Once a coin is used to give a gift, they can be converted by the receiver into ‘diamonds’ which can then be cashed out. Media are warning parents about this feature.
Sway House’s Noah Beck’s fans (mostly young teenage girls) are spending amounts like $250 to boost their comments/give gifts on his live and get his attention. It’s the digital equivalent of paying to get a pit pass or meet and greet at a gig - so yes, kids who spend more money and who, arguably, have more privilege can get attention from their favourite TikToker.
And yes, they also all have their own merchandise, which sells like crazy. All of this further enhances their sense of freedom to do whatever it takes to entertain their fans. Read more about TikToks 7 highest earning stars here, who are able to pick and choose what brands they work with.
- TikTok is changing the entertainment landscape and showing us how unique youth digital consumption habits are forming around the biggest personalities and creators. The new form of reality TV is dynamic and young people are used to picking up bits of narrative from a variety of sources to paint the bigger picture. From a brand perspective this is a good reminder of how all your communications channels work together and separately to create a story for your target audience. A youth audience is adept and savvy at bringing things presented differently, together.
- Personal life drama still sells! While brands still play a role in supporting content creators and influencers, TikTok is normalising ‘grassroots’- type monetisation of the digital realm. The fact that fans are spending hundreds of dollars in this way is testament to the influence of the channel and its creators. The fandom is real. This means that creators are creating more for themselves and their young fans as a priority, rather than relying on branded content. Brands are potentially better off to negotiate long-term relationships and set guidelines on what they deem to be important (particularly from a safety perspective) to avoid backlash, from not just young consumers, but their parents and society at large.