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Top creator economy CEOs, agents, and business leaders share predictions for 2023

Business leaders at Snap, Pinterest, Discord, LinkTree, and more share what they are paying attention to.

 

Grace Stanley

Business

Posted on Jan 5, 2023   Updated on Jan 11, 2023, 2:50 pm CST

Seismic shifts rattled the creator economy in 2022. The rise of BeReal, AI-driven tech, VidCon’s return, and splashy creator-owned businesses like MrBeast’s Feastables all left their mark on the scene. We witnessed the tumultuous fall of TikTok’s creator fund, creator-backed crypto projects, TikTok-rival Triller, and even Twitter after Elon Musk’s controversial takeover. With an economy headed for a looming recession, we witnessed industry-wide layoffs and dwindling advertising spending, leading creators to brace for an uncertain 2023.

While no one can predict the future, we can certainly always benefit from debating ongoing trends with our peers. Passionfruit spoke with a variety of top agents, co-founders, CEOs, and other executives from companies like Snap, Discord, Pinterest, Wattpad, Linktree, Skillshare, Creative Artists Agency (CAA), and more to seek their opinions on what creators should be paying attention to in 2023. 

Creators-turned-CEOs will launch new products, hire staff, and explore new media

The slew of Forbes-list-worthy “creators turned CEOs” who launched their own businesses was hard to ignore in 2022. Think MrBeast’s food brand Feastables, or the founding of Charli and Dixie D’Amelio’s shoe and skin care family brand. These business ventures are becoming increasingly appealing to creators who want to build independent revenue.

Michael Senzer, a manager at Wheelhouse DNA‘s talent division, Additive, told Passionfruit creator-owned businesses will grow as venture capital pours in, saying, “I meet with consumer and tech product startups pretty often and they’re always looking to bring digital celebrities onto their cap tables.”

Executive Scott Dunn of Doing Things Media—the company behind Corn Kid—told Passionfruit also predicted more creators will take equity stakes in other brands, rather than doing paid advertising, saying, “Equity participation proposals will more frequently emerge to incentivize creators to stay put and avoid flight risk.”

In 2022, gaming creators KREW took an equity stake in merchandising firm Warren James, a company that launched apparel lines with them. Ben Wiedner, the co-founder of Warren James, told Passionfruit he also thinks creators are looking to take on more of a production-side role and build brands outside of social media, specifically in the food, beverage, and lifestyle spaces.

“They’re realizing they can leverage their fan base to create something much bigger than themselves, and that’s actually a big part of Warren James’ direction in 2023, as well—to support creators in a similar capacity to incubate really meaningful brands that can transcend their own audience,” Wiedner said.

Beyond new products and equity stakes, creators are also expected to expand teams and build out full-scale media companies. As previously reported by Passionfruit, many creators with larger audiences hire editors, producers, operations managers, and even CEOs to join their teams. Executive Dunn told Passionfruit the heavily reported issue of creator burnout in 2022 will be a driving force behind larger creators staffing up, saying: “Massive scale is simply not sustainable without a village.”

For example, the star creators behind children’s YouTube channel Spy Ninjas hired former Disney media executive Jason James as president and chief operating officer in August 2022.

“For a lot of people in the creator space, it is going to be a year of staffing and bringing in subject matter experts or bringing in a circle of lieutenants around them,” James told Passionfruit.

Artificial intelligence, the publishing industry, and Web3 garner attention

It won’t just be humans taking work off creators’ plates in 2023. Artificial intelligence (AI) in content creation proliferated in 2022. AI-driven editing tool Descript made big waves for its $50 million fundraising round, AI-driven content production company Jellysmack caught many creators’ attention at VidCon, and AI social media conversation generator ChatGPT stirred debate this year. 

Lightricks, the mobile software company behind apps like Facetune and Videoleap, invested heavily in AI-generated offerings with its launch of an AI-driven text-to-image generator. Lightricks’ CEO Zeev Farbman told Passionfruit he’s paying attention to the rise of artificial intelligence as a means for creators to scale, saying: “AI-powered tools will automate certain aspects of their work, freeing up more time to focus on creativity or higher-value tasks.”

Sebastien Borget, the co-founder of metaverse platform the Sandbox, also said he is paying attention to AI, as well as avatars, animation, and the integration of blockchain technology, saying, “We’re seeing more and more companies moving into the space.”

The Sandbox attracted attention in 2022 due to high-profile partnerships with and investments from celebrities and brands like Paris Hilton, Snoop Dogg, Adidas, and Samsung.

While Web3 has been plagued by recent bad headlines, like the fall of crypto exchange FTX and massive lawsuits against influencers promoting crypto and NFT projects, it continues to be an area of great interest to creators—with Coindesk’s Web3 Creator Summit drawing decent crowds, and niche launches of NFT-driven communities by creators beginning to take root.

Creators-turned-entrepreneurs will also likely pursue media opportunities in film, television, and print. The rise of cinematic creator-made productions—like Markiplier’s In Space—and series like Tower of God, a massively viral webcomic turned graphic novel and anime series—was a hallmark of last year. Webtoon executive David Lee told Passionfruit books, television shows, and movies that originate from internet-born creators will continue to proliferate globally—and those creators have more bargaining power. 

Webcomics’ ability to monetize online in its original format empowers creators not to be left at the mercy of success in other formats, and this in turn gives creators the ability to draw more attention and a stronger negotiating ground from traditional media and publishing,” Lee said.

Wattpad’s chief content officer Sue Johnson told Passionfruit the rise of newsletter platforms like Substack marks a shift in authors, writers, and journalists identifying as entrepreneurs. She predicts we are going to see a larger profile for indie web novelists and self-published fiction authors, saying, “These authors-as-influencers will be a big part of the growing creator economy.

Monetization-friendly platforms will rise, and others will fall out of favor

In 2022, many platforms were heavily criticized for not sharing a big enough slice of revenue with creators. Hank Green went viral for speaking out against TikTok’s stagnant creator fund. Twitch caught fire for updating its premium revenue share policy, ending its deals with top creators for a 70-30 split, reducing it to a 50-50 across the board.

Chris Wittine, an agent who represents pro-gamers like Ninja and DrDisrespect at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), told Passionfruit he thinks some top live streamers will leave Twitch after their exclusivity contracts end due to shifts in its revenue-sharing policies.

“There will be an interesting movement of talent dispersed into other platforms, maybe even simulcasting platforms in the live community. This has already started, but there are still some pretty big stakeholders that have held on really contractually, not by the motivation of community or audience,” Wittine said.

Despite TikTok’s massive userbase, Wittine also said he thinks 2023 will be the year of YouTube, considering YouTube’s monetization capabilities are reputed to be better than TikTok’s. YouTube announced that in February 2023 it will give YouTube Shorts creators 45% of ad revenue generated by viewership. 

Creators also made waves this year by turning towards smaller, more niche platforms, like Twitter-alternative Mastodon or collage-making app Shuffles, to build community. 

Patreon executive Sarah Penna said creators feel particularly taken advantage of by big, algorithmic social media platforms. In October 2022, Patreon surveyed over 1,500 creators and found that 70% of them felt screwed by big tech platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, and 73% said they don’t like that algorithms impact the type of work they create. LinkedIn also noted that social media users will turn their backs on the algorithms in its 41 Big Ideas for 2023, predicting that smaller community-based apps like Discord, Substack, and Patreon will grow.

“Creators are turning their backs on the algorithm—realizing that platforms reliant on algorithmically curated-based priority models make it increasingly difficult for them to truly own their relationship with their fans,” Penna said.

Monetization will continue to be top of mind for creators in the new year, co-founder of Linktree Anthony Zaccaria told Passionfruit, saying, “Linktree’s Link-Back 2022 recap revealed that creators are taking advantage of monetizing their craft, and their audiences are loving this. We’ve seen on average over 19.7 [million] clicks to monetization links each month and garnered 21.2 [million] clicks in October alone. “

Niching down and building tight-knit communities

In the throes of the TikTok era where eyeballs are plenty but engagement is less easy to come by, executives echoed the age-old, 1,000-true-fans sentiment: Niche creators will continue to hone in on tight-knit communities in the upcoming year. Executive Quincy Kevan of Snap Inc. told Passionfruit there will be an emphasis on high-quality engagement over inflated audiences.

“I believe we will see a shift away from staged or performative content as creators realize that to build a tight-knit community, you must be authentic,” Kevan said. “I think creators should move away from that perfect staged selfie, or that performative 20-second video, and instead focus on authentic, slice-of-life style content.”

Pinterest—a platform that appeared to be highly focused on niche community with its Shuffles launch, investment in social commerce, and live streaming—also appears to have its eyes on “authenticity” and tighter audience relationships.

“Audiences are savvy and can sense authenticity through their screens,” Pinterest senior lead Alexandra Nikolajev told Passionfruit. “I believe this will be reflected in their work as they get more candid about creator burnout and the effect of their career on their emotional well-being.”

Discord made splashes in the creator economy in 2022 for its focus on community—due to the rise of super-fan-driven servers, often popular amongst gaming creators like Dream SMP. It also launched subscription monetization capabilities with a 90-10 creator-platform revenue split. Discord executive Grace Chau said creators are focusing less on big numbers and more on building a “core engaged community” through things like watch parties, crowd-sourcing content ideas, and organizing one-on-ones.

Skillshare CEO Matt Cooper told Passionfruit successful learning and education creators honed in on niche expertise and very narrow focuses in 2022, building “small but rabid” audiences across diverse streams of revenue.

“You don’t need a mass audience, you need the right audience and a really engaged audience,” Cooper said. 

Diversity and representation in the creator economy are on the rise—still with a long way to go

Many business leaders expressed a desire for greater representation and diversity in the creator economy. Whalar, a huge name in the creator talent management space, acquired C Talent, a Disabled-led talent management and brand consulting company, in 2022. C Talent founder Keely Cat-Wells said progress in accessibility and representation is on the rise, but brands have a long way to go.

I still foresee Disabled creators having challenges with being included in all advertising and campaigns. It is imperative Disabled creators are included in campaigns that are not just Disability-specific,” Cat-Wells said. “I see missing gaps when it comes to [companies] taking the opportunity of Disability pride with integrity. Brands must conduct Disability and Accessibility training for all teams, especially their creative teams, and intentionally hire Disabled people within these teams.”

Creator pay disparity also continues to be rampant in the creator economy. Cat-Wells noted pay inequity for Disabled creators, and companies like Adobe reported in 2022 that BIPOC and women professional creators earn 21% less than their white male counterparts. 

In addition, platforms like YouTube and TikTok have been criticized for unfairly censoring and demonetizing content made by BIPOC, LGBTQ, fat, and Disabled creators. In August 2022, popular gaming creator CoryxKenshin made a video explaining how his video on the horror game The Mortuary Assistant was age-restricted despite the fact that many other videos, specifically made by his white peers, were not.

“Algorithms, policies, and platforms must prioritize accessibility and equity,” Cat-Wells said. “Social media and entertainment platforms are still dealing with their own ableism and the censoring of Disabled creators.”

While change has been slow, Wattpad executive Johnson said she has witnessed the surge in popularity of more diverse stories than the traditional media and entertainment industry has ever seen before due to Gen Z’s growing interest in diversity and representation.

“Authors have new and exciting opportunities to tell their stories outside of traditional publishing and reach completely new audiences,” Johnson said.

While ad spending is uncertain, influencer marketing will still survive a looming recession

While any business supported by advertising and marketing dollars can expect a bit of a squeeze in 2023 due to economic woes, many business leaders told Passionfruit that creators have some additional insulation from turbulent times.

“Partnerships [between brands and creators] can offer more cost-effective and better-targeted results, allowing brands to better connect to their audiences and strategically spend their marketing budgets while focusing on user acquisition in a non-traditional way,” Lightricks CEO Farbman said.

However, making income from content creation is a notoriously unreliable path. Rooster Teeth executive Jejuan Guillory told Passionfruit creators from marginalized backgrounds are most likely to feel the effects of economic hits.

“We can expect that the top independent creators will find themselves in a better place than many due to their low overhead combined with highly engaged communities. However, for emerging creators and creators from historically underrepresented groups, the impact of broader economic downturns can be harder felt,” Guillory said. 

Many business leaders urged creators to diversify their businesses and pivot away from brand-dependent income and towards “sustainable, passive revenue.”

“Given the uncertain economic climate ahead of us, it is imperative that creators diversify their businesses,” manager Senzer said. “The price to reach target audiences has gone up and thus, spending on digital advertising and influencer budgets will likely take a dramatic hit.”

Agent Wittine said he thinks brands will double down on longer-term partnerships and take fewer risks during times of uncertainty. He also predicted creators will take more in-house roles with brands—in 2022, companies like Nike and Samsung hired creator talent for more permanent staff roles. 

“There’s probably going to be an increase in what once was an agency or consulting type role now becoming sort of your in-house resident artist type role. … [Creators will do] things such as help as part of their services, deliver recommendations on strategy, or even co-brand projects,” Wittine said.

This article was updated to include a statement from Linktree’s co-founder, Anthony Zaccaria, to clarify remarks from Wattpad’s Sue Johnson, and to attribute a quote to Scott Dunn.


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*First Published: Jan 5, 2023, 2:50 pm CST