About Mark Mulligan

Music Industry analyst and some time music producer. Vice President and Research Director with Forrester Research

TikTok Music could change the game

There has been talk for some time now of TikTok parent ByteDance launching a music streaming service in Western markets. It already has Resso in Indonesia, India, and Brazil, but has spiked interest recently with trademark registrations, new Twitter accounts, and reports that ‘more than a dozen’ new markets are being prepped. TikTok has become one of the central forces in the digital music market ecosystem, eroding the cultural capital of traditional streaming services. It is a logical leap to assume that if TikTok becomes a key force in music discovery, it could do the same for consumption. While this is certainly the case, ByteDance’s streaming opportunity is a whole lot bigger and more disruptive than Resso:

TikTok Music: Resso is a perfectly decent streaming service, but similarly to YouTube Music, it only scratches the surface of what it could be. Both TikTok and YouTube have unique content, behaviour, features, and culture that stand in stark contrast to standard streaming. It is difficult to translate much of this because of licensing constraints but doing so should be the priority for both TikTok and YouTube. This will drive differentiation and help the industry carve out genuine new growth pockets rather than just unearthing the remnants of the addressable base for standard streaming. Of even more relevance to the music business, unless rightsholders can empower ByteDance’s streaming offering with something truly different, is the risk that its growth will largely comprise of switching Spotify subscribers. The music business needs the maturing streaming market to be about growth, not substitution. Perhaps TikTok Music Twitter profiles point to something bigger and bolder than Resso.

Discovery is consumption: People used to discover music on the radio and then go and buy it. That model has been turned upside down. Now, people (younger audiences in particular) discover most of their new music on TikTok or YouTube before going to radio-like streaming services to consume it. What is more, much of the ‘discovery’ that happens on TikTok is consumption. It is not just consumption either, it is consumption that streaming cannot replicate. This is before even considering the importance of ‘lean through’ creative behaviour, such as doing a duet or a dance challenge to your favourite artist’s new track. Music is the soundtrack and often the catalyst to this ‘consumption’, but when that music is listened to on streaming, it is stripped of all that creative and cultural context – It is like only listening to the soundtrack of a movie. Movie soundtracks do well as formats, but they only exist because of the movies as that is where the real value lies. All of this is why a TikTok Music service could be so exciting as it could provide both the creative and cultural context, not just the stripped-down audio file.

Ecosystem: The single most important factor of all though is TikTok’s ecosystem play. In the traditional streaming value chain, you have creators, rights, distribution, promotion, and consumption. TikTok achieves these with its superpower: its audience. Creation comes from the audience, who then distribute and market the content (via the user-centric algorithm framework, user shares, recreation, and other means), and then, of course, the audience consumes. It is a self-contained, virtuous cycle – An ecosystem. Right now, artists are pumped into the system by label marketing teams, and independent artists can push out of the system into traditional streaming with SoundOn. Yet, over time, TikTok’s creation, distribution, and consumption will become ever more self-contained, making TikTok part of what MIDiA identified as the music industry counter-culture. TikTok Music could be a major step on that journey.

Label executives: take this survey and receive a free MIDiA report

MIDiA is fielding a survey exploring the changing role of music streaming services in today’s music business and we want to hear your opinions. Specifically, we want to hear the opinions of record label executives. Whether you run your own small label or are a strategy manager in a major, we want to hear your views.

You can take the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/LGYFBZL

MIDiA will treat responses with utmost confidence. They will only ever be viewed at the total respondent level, so no individual responses will ever be seen.

We appreciate time is a scarce commodity, especially in these challenging times. So by way of thanks for participating, all respondents will receive a free copy of MIDiA’s landmark report: The future of music: the rise of a counterculture industry. Retailing for £7,500, this report lays out a bold vision for the new music business that is beginning to take shape. One in which next-generation platforms carve out a new, creator-centric music business that runs in parallel to the traditional business but that also competes with labels and DSPs alike. It is a great report! 

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the survey, please email srishti@midiaresearch.com

The creator economy’s post-lockdown growth

The Covid pandemic created a unique catalyst for the music creator economy. More time on hands and more cash in pockets gave novices and veterans alike the opportunity to spend both more time and money making music. Though the pandemic was a peak, it also marked the start of a new era for the music creator economy across every one of its aspects, from revenue to creation to remuneration. In MIDiA’s new landmark report ‘State of the music creator economy’ we provide the definitive assessment of this exciting marketplace, covering everything from creator behaviours, creator personas, all the way through to workflows, market sizes, and growth forecasts. The full report and datasets are available to MIDiA clients here. Here is an overview of some of the key themes explored in the report.

A new generation of music makers

The music creator tools space is being transformed by the increasing availability of simple, affordable music-making tools, plus a new generation of consumers that is steeped in creator culture. We are entering a new era for the music creator economy. Yet, despite all the dramatic changes, underpinning this new era of creator behaviour are suites of complex software that arose over two decades ago and, at their core, have seen little substantial change. The digital audio workstation (DAW) is the foundation of modern music making, but was not designed for the modern music maker. This presents fertile soils for seeds of disruption as more casual music making, centred around mobile devices and sharing music online, becomes the new top of funnel for the music creation space, and the music industry as a whole. 

Having grown up as social media mainstreamed creativity, the new generation of music makers expects to achieve professional results quickly. However, as their aspirations clash with the harsh reality of streaming economics, more creators are seeking out a diversity of income streams — from selling beats to mixing and engineering — underscoring the need for creator tools companies to help drive creator remuneration. Combined with the growth of casual creators, catalysed by embedded tools on social platforms, like TikTok and BandLab, the result is a newfound fluidity in defining what it means to be a music creator. 

Though much of that generational shift will take time to permeate through to the current market, seismic change is already manifesting. Nowhere is this better seen than in the that hardware music creators use. As recently as five years ago, music creators would have invested in hardware mixing desks, synthesisers, and outboard effects. But today, the most widely owned hardware is devices that plug into computers, such as controller keyboards and audio interfaces. These affordable devices free up creators to spend on the software and sounds on their computers, relying on the hardware to control sound making, rather than actually making the sound.

And it is the spending on software, sounds and services that is currently propelling the market. With an average creator spending more than $600 a year on music creation, promotion, distribution, and commercial tools. For beginners this can mean spending three and half times more than they earn from music, while for advanced creators it is a little over one tenth. In total, the music creator tools market was worth $4.1 billion in 2022, across learning, collaboration, production software, sounds, funding, commerce, distribution, marketing and commercial, with distribution and production software being the two largest segments.

In 2021, the cumulative number of creators paying for software, sounds, skills sharing, and learning was under 30 million – by 2030 there will be nearly 100 million with learning and skills sharing becoming the largest single group of buyers. Learning and skill sharing were among the fastest growing components of the music creator economy in 2021, with strong rise in both formal and informal learning as well as in skills sharing. Just under half of the learning revenue was from companies that were largely or entirely focused on music production learning. With 83% of creators feeling that they still have much to learn and improve upon, the opportunity for learning is pronounced and will become even more so because of the fast-changing nature of the sector.

However, much of all this may seem like a separate and parallel industry to those in the traditional music business (labels, publishers, streaming services, etc.), the creator tools market that commands much of the attention, time and spend of artists and songwriters. Streaming is only around a fifth of the income of the average creator, with many aspects of the creator tools marketplace representing new ways that they can earn meaningful income, whether that is selling singing sessions on skills marketplaces, writing soundpacks for sounds platforms or producing tracks for other creators. Furthermore, clear connections are being made across the two industries, such as Avid and LANDR both offering distribution, Sony Music Publishing striking a partnership with BeatStars and Spotify launching a bundle subscription for its Cloud DAW Soundtrap. The most impactful synergies, however, will come from audience platforms, like TikTok and Shorts, that are already home to music creators and already provide their own creator tools. But what they have that rightsholders and most creator tools companies do not, is audience. As the culture of creation spreads towards audiences themselves, it is these sorts of companies that have the ability to play the most transformative role in the future of music creation.

If you are interested in learning more about MIDiA’s state of the music creator economy report, email stephen@midiaresearch.com

Time to jump off the algorithm highway

Life is perpetual change, so it is perhaps overdoing it to suggest that the music business is at a cultural pivot point. Yet, what comes next has the potential to be looked at, years from now, as a dividing line between before and after. For more than half a decade, the music business has been hurtling down the algorithm highway, repurposing artist development, marketing, fan engagement, and even the structure of the song itself in order to stay the path. Everything is splintering, from attention to remuneration, with creators and rightsholders alike finding themselves feeding a beast whose hunger is never sated. Much like an addict who wants to quit but cannot, the music business understands the problem and the costs it incurs them, yet they dare not jump off the algorithm highway for fear of being left behind by those who do not. And yet, jumping is exactly what is needed, to halt the perpetual commodification of both music and creators. It is a leap of faith, but onto a welcoming crash mat: scenes.

At Future Music Forum this week, myself and fellow MIDiA analysts Tatiana Cirisano and Kriss Thakrar talked a lot about MIDiA’s new research into scenes and identity (MIDiA clients can read our latest report on the topic here). Regular readers will be familiar with our work on fragmented fandom and how the splintering of consumption has created a parallel splintering of culture, with new hits becoming smaller and more short-lived. In this song economy environment, it is the song, not the artist, that is the central currency, thus making nurturing smaller fandoms mission critical. But fandom itself is the symptom, the cause is identity, and this, along with the scenes in which it manifests, is where the future of music marketing lies.

Algorithms have assumed a central role in the success of artists in today’s music business, with marketers forever trying to improve their understanding of their inner workings in order to gain advantage for their artist. It is, in many respects, a fool’s errand, as it is in the platforms’ interest to continually evolve the algorithms in order to ensure it is themselves that determine success, not third parties. Nonetheless, there are ways to succeed in the song economy: you may not be able to beat the algorithm, but you can join it. This means thinking and behaving like an algorithm, to hold virality by the hand. Just like an algorithm, this means real-time multivariate testing within target segments, and progressively expanding only to next-level associated segment, resisting the ability to go big as soon as something fires. But using the algorithm as a marketing discipline truly effectively entails a degree of ruthlessness that many artists and labels would find unpalatable. Algorithms find success by casting out failure instantly, instead only amplifying that which resonates within target segments. So a label pursuing this approach would need to be willing to ditch a campaign incredibly early if it does not, however much the label might believe in the release or however big a priority the artist might be. Artist rosters would become a production line of bets, as quickly discarded as signed. Failing fast is as important as succeeding fast in the song economy. 

This ruthlessness does not sit well with the traditional model of building an artist but, as dystopian a vision as it might be, is the exact path that labels already find themselves on. Scenes represent an alternative way forward.

Scenes and identity

Scenes have always existed, but now there is a growing proliferation of online scenes that allow a degree of specificity that was simply not possible previously. As Tatiana puts it:

“Not only can people find people across the globe with the exact same interests and values, algorithms actually push those people closer together”.

Though scenes can be transitory and ephemeral, subject to fast-shifting cultural trends, the really valuable ones are those that are rooted in identity, that speak to who people are about. The eBoy scene, with Young Blud as an icon, is a case in point, reflecting the values of a tribe that does not identify with the Instagram-perfect archetype of appearance. 

These scenes sometimes revolve around music, but most often, music is simply the soundtrack, with a number of artists emerging as icons, not because they have cynically targeted them but because they come from those communities and reflect their values. Fandom is an output of this shaping of identity. It is simultaneously a way of showing how much identity matters to you and of reinforcing that identity. In fact, fandom is identity’s virtuous circle of influence, with people’s fandom reinforcing their identity and communicating it to their scene community, thus reinforcing their bonds within it.

Identity is fandom’s ground zero. Music marketers that are able to identify and nurture it (rather than simply attempt to harvest it) have an opportunity to forge a depth of artist-fan relationship that will endure far beyond the whim of any algorithm, survive both hit and miss singles, and will not disappear into the black hole of lean-back consumption. 

Streaming put fandom on hiatus. Scenes represent an opportunity to reforge fandom for the modern era, an incubator for artist careers. In short, an antidote to the song economy.

WMG is moving beyond superstars – and that is a good thing

Warner Music Group’s (WMG’s) Steve Cooper recently stated that the major is no longer financially dependent on superstars – which is, of course, quite a different thing from not being culturally dependent on them, but we’ll get to that. For a major’s CEO (exiting or not) to make such a claim is both bold and a reflection of the reality on the ground. In fact, it is a natural milestone in a trend MIDiA identified years ago: fragmented fandom. As streaming audiences and consumption fragment, so does the impact of superstars. As with any transition, the shift is not linear and there will continue to be more Olivia Rodrigos and Billie Eilishes, but they will be fewer and farther between, and crucially, they will be smaller than their pre-fragmentation peers.

Superstars getting smaller is music to the ears of independent labels and artists alike, but it is far from the death knell for big labels. Instead, it simply reflects the new environment in which they will operate. Indeed, Cooper said WMG is pursuing a “portfolio” strategy “across a bigger number of artists” to reduce financial “dependency on superstars”. This comes after BMG’s CEO, Hartwig Masuch, said of their latest results: “The extraordinary thing about our first half result is that we grew revenue 25% with virtually no hits”. Having no superstars does not mean having no hits, instead it means more, smaller hits.

In 2019, MIDiA wrote that “Niche is the new mainstream”, that the water cooler moments of the linear era were being replaced by cultural moments. Audiences are in different places at different times, with algorithms delivering them different personalised content. Concepts, such as ‘song of the summer’, are becoming different for everyone. Each listener has their own song of the summer. In the era of fragmented fandom, water cooler moments across the masses, where everyone heard the song on the radio at the same time, are replaced by smaller groups of people finding pockets of likeminded fans across the world.

The consequence for artist marketing is a progressive shift from ‘carpet bombing’ mass media in order to build artist brand reach, to campaigns that, instead, reach real fans with laser-focused targeting. In the old model, a superstar artist was a household name, with mum and dad just as likely to know them as their kids. But what was the value of mum and dad knowing the artist if they were not the target audience? It might play to the artists’ egos, but it was an inefficient spend of marketing budget. Now, targeted marketing reaches the consumers who care. The result is smaller, but more passionate, fanbases. This is marketing to build fans rather than audiences. It is just a shame that western DSPs are built for passive audiences rather than fandoms. That will need to change. DSPs paradoxically triggered the fragmentation, but they do not provide the mechanisms for artists and labels to benefit. A cynic might argue that that is by design.

Indeed, the fragmentation of listening that streaming is pushing consumption towards the middle, away from the superstars, as Music Business Worldwide’s Luminate chart for streams of the US top-10 tracks shows.

For the superstars who are used to mega-fame from the pre-fragmentation days, a new release’s performance can look like diminishing success when measured by traditional metrics – just ask Beyonce. But, because fragmentation means it is truer fans that engage with the music, the cultural relevance of these smaller hits can actually be bigger – again just ask Beyonce.

There are, however, extra complications. As we are currently in a transition phase, pre-fragmentation hangovers are muddying the streaming waters. Pre-fragmentation hits stick around for longer on streaming because they had the pre-fragmentation brand reach. Since they benefited from the old-world mainstream media exposure, their hits cut through on streaming in a way that newer ones often struggle to. These pre-fragmentation hangovers have the effect of fragmenting new hits even further as they take up so much of streaming’s consumption. The result is that streaming is not so much a level playing field as a field of all levels.This transition phase will play out, and while it does, there is a world of opportunity for artists and labels that can harness the deeply held fandom that fragmentation creates.

The rise of scenes

The most exciting knock-on effect of fragmentation is the rise of scenes and micro scenes. In the old world, consumers had a limited range of things with which they could identify themselves, as everyone was watching the same TV, reading the same magazines, listening to the same radio, and shopping in the same shops. Now, consumers can build their own identity from an ever more diverse set of attributes, across fashion, music, TV / film, games, politics, etc. 

As my colleague Tatiana Cirisano put it:

“The result is that scenes are becoming more complex and splintered. Consider the seemingly endless range of subcultures on TikTok, from #cottagecore to #EGirl, or the Instagram account @starterpacksofnyc, which has garnered more than 64,500 followers by crystallising super-specific, yet eerily-familiar, personality types.”

This rise of scenes is what will shape the future of marketing, with scenes becoming the new territories, transcending borders and cultures. Superstars will get smaller, but they will get better at monetising their superfans (this is why Taylor Swift’s Universal Music Group deal includes a broader range of rights than just recordings, as her sales were only going to go in one direction). Superstars are not dead, they are changing, become smaller and less, well, super. It is an inevitable second-order consequence of streaming splintering listening and the smart labels will harness the trend rather than try to fight it.

C.R.E.A.T.E. An entertainment manifesto

When we first formed MIDiA eight years ago, we saw the new entertainment world was going to require a new joined up approach for entertainment businesses. With the start of the ascent of the smartphone we made an intellectual bet that everything was going to become more interconnected, inter-dependent and inter-competitive. Our vision then, was to build analysis and data that cut across siloes, to help previously unrelated industries understand they were becoming connected. The ‘connecting the dots’ tagline that we launched with in 2014 was right for the time, but now the world has moved on. The dots are now connected. That job is done. Now it is time to decide what to do with those connections.

In more recent years we identified new drivers of the entertainment economy, such as:

  • Fragmented Fandom
  • The Attention Economy
  • The Attention Recession
  • Creator independence
  • Rise of creator tools
  • Reaggregation

When we introduced those concepts they took some time to land, but now are increasingly widely accepted as industry currency. Even other research companies have started following our lead, with webinars and research on the attention economy, the attention recession and fandom fragmentation.

But although those trends will continue to play crucial roles, it is an entirely new set of market dynamics that will shape the future as the world enters a period of uncertainty and disruption unprecedented in modern times:

  • Attention inflation: As consumers return to pre-pandemic behaviours, they are trying to squeeze all their new-found entertainment behaviours into less available time. Multitasking is rocketing which means each entertainment minute is less valuable as it is increasingly being done alongside something else. Many more consumption hours than actual hours results in attention inflation.
  • The splintering of culture: Water cooler moments may not yet be dead but they are fading. Hits are getting smaller (just ask Beyonce) and audiences are fragmenting. But cultural relevance can actually increase within these fragmented fanbases (again, just ask Beyonce). Culture is splintering but may end up more vibrant as a result.
  • Scenes and identity: Underpinning and resulting from culture splintering is the rise of scenes, especially micro scenes which populate platforms like Twitter. Scenes are more than just groups of fans, they a cultural movements that that people look to for identity and belonging. Fandom is merely a subcomponent.
  • Lean through: Consumers used to just, well, consume. Now though, every more of them want to participate. The line between creation and consumption is blurring. Leaning forward is no longer enough, now audiences want to lean in and create.
  • The creator economy: Perhaps the single biggest shift in entertainment in recent years is the rise and rise of the creator economy, straddling virtually every entertainment format. The creator economy is so much more than vloggers and influencers. It represents a reshaping of culture, remuneration and audiences. As such it will reshape entertainment forever. 
  • Post-peak growth: With inflation soaring and a recession looming, consumers will have less money to spend on entertainment and leisure. Some sectors will suffer, some will sustain but others will grow. Whether it is to survive or to thrive, entertainment companies will need to reshape both their strategies and purpose.
  • Rediscovery is the future of discovery: The first phase of streaming was all about discovery. Now, with a surplus of supply and demand constrained by the attention recession, what consumers want as much as what is new, is to re-find what they already know and love.

Business as usual is gone. The next chapter of the business of entertainment will require a completely new approach. This is MIDiA’s C.R.E.A.T.E. Entertainment Manifesto for what is required of entertainment companies in this brave new world.

  • Cultivate every moment: Multitasking means consumption minutes are losing value. Every moment needs to be made as valuable and as entertaining as it possibly can be. Entertainment companies need their audiences notice what they consume.
  • Reward the creator economy: Streaming and social platforms are increasingly dependent on the long tail. The scale economics work for platforms by summing up a multiplicity of niches but they do not work for long tail creators. Platforms and rightsholders need to nurture not just harvest the creator economy.
  • Empower the consumer as a creator: Lean through consumers are also super fans. More platforms and services need to give consumers the sort of participation tools that TikTok built is success upon. Not just because it is what audiences want but because it also builds fandom and amplifies entertainment brands.
  • Add value and escapism: As consumers’ wallets tighten, subscriptions and ad spend are both at risk. But this need not be an entertainment Armageddon. Instead, entertainment companies should offer consumers what they want: 1) value for money, 2) escape from the harsh realities of daily life.
  • Target the middle: While it is tempting to always chase the big hit, the reality is that hits are getting smaller. Success in these coming years will be most easily found by cultivating a collection of mid-sized hits rather than placing all bets on mega hits.
  • Embrace scenes and identity: Scenes and identity are the undervalued super power of entertainment. Music, games, sports, creators, books, movies, TV shows – they all move people and they all help define who we are. Truly understanding and harnessing identity will be the difference between survive and thrive. 

We hope that the C.R.E.A.T.E. framework and our new Critical Developments coverage help companies and creators plot their paths through the troubled waters ahead. But even more important, is to develop a sense of purpose, a definition of why you do what you do, and to communicate that to your audiences and partners. The entertainment industries have 

Web 3.0 is a lane, not a highway

Facebook was not the first web 2.0 company, but it was the one that took it mainstream to a global audience. Consumers’ digital lives would never be the same again. Whereas web 1.0 had enabled them to visit and read websites, much like a digital evolution of newspapers and magazines, Facebook enabled consumers to participate, to comment, upload photos, converse, etc. It was a total transformation of the internet and enabled much of the digital world in which we live now. But it did not mean the end of web 1.0. Indeed, 18 years after Facebook’s launch, web 1.0 is alive and well, with websites being an integral part of our everyday digital lives. Sure, many of those have adopted web 2.0 components, such as comment fields, but they are still fundamentally web 1.0. With all the hype, or even, post-hype of web 3.0, it is tempting to think that our entire future digital lives will be lived in VR glasses and on the blockchain. But the actual future will be more prosaic, with web 3.0 being another lane to the internet’s highway, rather than an entirely new road to replace the old one. And that is no bad thing, nor does it undermine the vast potential that web 3.0 has. Nonetheless, it does warrant a reassessment of just what role web 3.0 will play.

Image credit: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gartner_hype_cycle#/media/File:Gartner_Hype_Cycle.svg

Many of you will be familiar with Gartner’s iconic hype cycle. The premise is brilliantly simple. When a new technology arrives, the world becomes obsessed with its transformative potential. The tech press builds it up, investors pour in money, and the world is awash with innovative new start-ups, from one-person passion projects to heavily funded companies with lavish booths at tech trade fairs and conferences. This is the peak of inflated expectations. Then, inevitably, the technology’s progress cannot keep pace with those elevated expectations. The tech press starts to turn, with stories emerging at an accelerating rate about failing start-ups and how they have overpromised and underdelivered. The image of well-funded Magic Leap’s AR prototype being the size of a backpack is a perfect example. As the hype turns into derision and doubt, the technology slips into the trough of disillusionment (which I always think sounds like a Radiohead album title). Sometimes this is the graveyard of new tech, but, most often, it is simply a recalibration. With the fierce gaze of the tech world no longer there, the new tech sector can start to grow at a more sustainable, organic pace. Eventually it will start to fulfil its true potential and steadily build up the slope of enlightenment, before fulfilling its original promise. 

This is the path that most new tech is destined to follow. This is because, when thinking about new technology, it is easy to underestimate the near-term potential but overestimate the long-term potential. And this is due to humans adopting new tech in depressingly predictable ways. The early adopters (who are most often also the ones who first make the new tech) can see the potential and adopt immediately, despite all of its bugs and teething problems. It is only when the tech is ready for primetime that early followers come on board, eventually opening up adoption from the mainstream and even the tech-hesitant laggards.

Web 3.0 is now shifting from the inflated peak to the trough. Just look at all of the stories about undersold NFT auctions, falling crypto prices, etc. But we have been here before, many times, even in recent years. Just think about how VR and 3D printers were hyped to change the world. Once the hype subsided, both sectors started to build sustainable futures.

With this considered there are four major factors that will define the future of web 3.0:

  • Recalibration: Web 3.0 is neither dead nor dying – it is recalibrating. Will there be a wave of failed start-ups and investors losing money? Yes. But that is part of a long-proven pattern.
  • Realism: We need to be realistic about what web 3.0 will be when it does finally reach the slope of enlightenment. Yes, it will change our digital lives, but it will not be all of our digital lives. Just like web 2.0, it will run alongside the rest of the internet. Will it replace some of it? Yes – but not all of it. Instead, the internet highway will have a third, new lane.
  • User interface: Web 3.0 is still missing a crucial component: a user interface. Facebook succeeded not because it was a set of revolutionary protocols, but because it was a transformative user experience, allowing consumers to create, share and participate. Web 3.0 needs its interface. We have the building materials for web 3.0 but we do not have the building. Heck, you could argue that we do not yet even have the architectural plans.
  • Focus: Web 3.0’s scope and remit are so vast that, in truth, it represents a collection of entirely different propositions that may have an underlying technology link but, to consumers, are entirely separate. Fortnite and Ethereum are as far apart as consumer experiences as a football and a credit card are. An overdependence on reaching for commonality may help get investors on board, but it makes it harder to build the necessarily diverse consumer messages if widespread adoption is to ever happen.

Web 3.0 will change the internet, but it will need to change itself first.

This is not a blip

When change happens it often takes the perspective of looking back years, or even decades, later to appreciate just how meaningful that change was. Other times, it happens so fast that it can be difficult to appreciate its magnitude because people become desensitised to the perpetual torrent of bad news. It is the latter situation in which we find ourselves now. What appears to be a succession of unrelated events (war, political crisis, climate change, inflation, etc.) are actually all indicators of a wider and connected wave of change that is going to reshape the world. And not just for a matter of months, but for a generation, perhaps more. It is tempting to think that the entertainment and consumer tech industries are, at the very least, insulated. But they are not.

First, let us look at all of the main components of the change and disruption:

In normal times, we might be facing one of these challenges, but now we face all of them with cumulative and interconnected effect. The result will most likely not just be a blip that lasts for a year, but, instead, what will be a realignment of the global economy, and that is without even considering the dramatic changes to the global geo-political situation with  Ukraine and Taiwan.

It is difficult for any of us to properly grasp how all of these changes will reshape the world, because the combination of factors is unprecedented in modern times (particularly because of climate change), which means that no one alive has experienced this before, and so all our reference points have limited use.

Even though the entertainment economy pales in importance compared to most of these factors, it will, nonetheless, be shaped by it, with the attention recession adding further spice. Subscriber declines and slowdowns will likely be a near-term impact, but the longer-term shifts will be more meaningful. This could manifest in a multitude of different ways, such as the rise of bundles (e.g., Apple One, Amazon Prime, Google One and Play Pass); the growth of the creator economy; and the long-term rise of ad supported and integration of ads into subscriptions, such as Netflix and Disney+.

Might consumers turn more to entertainment as times get tough? Sure. Might they start engaging more with digital entertainment because they cannot afford to go out as much anymore? Yes. But whatever direction(s) the entertainment market goes, two things are clear: 1) change is coming, 2) the companies that do best will be those that are willing to embrace and drive change.Whatever direction(s) the entertainment market goes, two things are clear: 1) change is coming, 2) the companies that do best will be those that are willing to embrace and drive change.

As the traditional Chinese curse goes “may you live in interesting times”.

Re-creating the creator economy

Everyone is a creator! Or so goes the dismissive put down of many a traditional media executive when talking about the creator economy. But regardless of what your perspective on the creator economy might be, there is no denying its meteoric rise. Perhaps what stokes the ire of some elements of traditional media is that the creator economy is evolving from being simply a talent funnel for traditional entertainment companies, into something self-contained and self-sustaining. But, for all of the positive change, there is much that is also problematic about the space. 

Harnessing aspiration at scale

First and foremost, the creator economy is a business model for the platforms and adjacent services, one that is built upon harnessing the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of large-scale creator audiences. While each of those creators individually craves success – however they might measure it – the platforms do not need the creators to find success for their respective business models to work. This is because, they monetise creators by harnessing aspiration at scale. If there are enough creators – and the pool is growing fast – a multitude of small-scale audiences are enough to drive the platforms’ strategic objectives of driving audience engagement, which, in turn, drives revenue.  What complicates matters further is the fact that creators are developing platform dependence – merely renting space on the platforms they depend upon, rarely with tenancy rights and often slave to the algorithm. It might be the creator economy, but creators fuel it rather than drive it.

Platforms are using audience as the new form of distribution

What has enabled this conflicted set of priorities to become established is the rise of platforms that use audience as the new form of distribution. Whereas traditional entertainment services, like Netflix and Spotify, license and create content to distribute to audiences, audience platforms, like TikTok and Twitch, pull their content from the audiences themselves. Even though most users consume rather than create, the creators come from their ranks. The old paradigm of license / create-distribute-audience has been replaced by audience-create-audience. If the traditional entertainment business depends on cannon balls, the creator economy trades in bullets.

Audiences are becoming creators, too, with 18% doing some form of content creation and 10% using creation tools in social platforms. Only 33% of consumers only ever purely consume content. Audiences went from lean back in the analogue era, lean in during the streaming era, and now lean through in the creator era. A growing body of creators is learning to harness this growing demand for creation, as evidenced by music creators, like Pink Panthress, Sadie Jean and Russ, canvassing input from their fanbases on TikTok.

The current surge in the creator economy is opening more doors for more creators than ever before while also bringing audiences ever closer to creation, too. But, as the number of creators grows, fandom and consumption fragment. The longer the tail, the harder it is for creators to cut through, find audiences, and build careers. Creators find themselves locked in a perpetual cycle of create / produce / perform / engage, with their host platforms demanding ever higher levels of frequency and volume of output. 

With creators’ constant fear that jumping out of the creator hamster wheel will see them disappear from the algorithm, there is a growing awareness that owning their audiences and having direct communication with them has never been more important. Yet today’s creator economy is not built this way. The rise of companies like Pico, Disciple Media and India’s ChargeBee point to the growing recognition of the ‘off-platform’ opportunity. But the majority of creators have the majority of their audiences on platforms where they are slave to the algorithm.

Owning audience is just one item on a long list of structural challenges (e.g., remuneration, discovery) that the creator economy must address if it is to transition from its current phase of undoubted opportunity, into something that can genuinely reshape and redefine the future of entertainment itself. There is both a duty of care and a window of opportunity that creator-economy companies must seize with both hands, but the second cannot be achieved without the first. That is why it is time to re-create the creator economy.

Whether you are in music, video, games, sports, or even comics, the creator economy is reshaping your business, your audience, your content, and, of course, your creators. Building upon MIDiA’s years of work in the creator economy, we have just published a landmark new report: Re-creating the creator economyIn this report, we present data, analysis and case studies of the creator economy across music, video, social, games, podcasts, sports and more, covering topics such as creator remuneration, women creators, business strategy, distribution and what independence really means.

If you are not yet a MIDiA client and would like to find out how to access this report then email stephen@midiaresearch.com

The attention recession meets the economic recession

We are living in uncertain times. The cost-of-living crisis is hitting consumers’ pockets, driven by rising fuel and food prices. The effects of the pandemic are still present, the global economy may be entering a recession, and the geo-political landscape is being increasingly shaped by conflict. All of this will impact the entertainment industries, but unlike other market sectors, entertainment is already dealing with its own recession: the attention recession. The circumstances bear resemblance to the credit crunch in 2007 when the music industry was still dealing with its own piracy-catalysed recession. But this time, it is a market dynamic that affects all forms of entertainment. 

The coming recession may also be unlike previous ones, in that there may be close to full employment – but spiralling inflation will likely mean surging wage poverty. It is the onset of the confluence of these unique market dynamics that inspired MIDiA to launch a brand new coverage area: Critical Developments, to help our client navigate these unchartered waters. We recently published the first report in this service (The attention recession: Post-peak behaviour). Here are some highlights from that report.

The attention economy has followed five key phases:

  1. Growth (<2019): Up until 2019, the booming digital entertainment sector filled consumers’ down time. Gone were staring out of the window, being bored at a train station, doing nothing in a Starbucks’ queue, replaced by entertainment. Everything hit new heights in the race for attention.
  2. Peak (<2019): By 2019 the slowdown had started. With just 9% of addressable consumer entertainment time remaining, many entertainment companies found it harder to maintain growth at previous rates. Growth began to become binary, with a minute gained being done so at another proposition’s expense.
  3. Lockdown boom (2020-2021): Just before the effects of peak attention began to be felt, the global pandemic hit, opening up a new wave of attention growth. During the lockdown boom, media time went up by 12% and all forms of home entertainment boomed.
  4. Post-lockdown dip (2021-2022/3): As people started to return to pre-pandemic behaviours, the first signs of contraction showed, but not all sectors were impacted evenly. Pandemic boom sectors, like audiobooks and podcasts, saw larger chunks of their newly-found consumption time disappear.
  5. New peak (>2023/4): The good news for digital entertainment is that when this contraction period finally ends, and the lockdown deluge recedes, the high-water mark will be higher than pre-pandemic. This is because life patterns are changing, e.g., more working from home.

Attention inflation

Despite this new, higher water mark, entertainment companies across the board are feeling the effects of the post-lockdown slowdown, as evidenced by Netflix reporting the loss of a million subscribers in Q2.Nonetheless, activity is beginning to rise in some categories. Thus, while video weekly active users (WAUs) fell from Q1 2021 to Q1 2022, music, games and social were all up (social, in fact, was the only category to grow without pause from pre- to post-pandemic). But even where entertainment companies are not feeling the pinch, the hours of their audiences have become devalued because of the rise of multitasking: as consumers try to keep up as many of their lockdown consumption patterns as they can, with fewer hours to do so. This is what MIDiA terms attention inflation.

Economic inflation

It is economic inflation though that is most tangible for consumers, with an average of around a fifth of them stating they would cancel subscriptions across music, video, TV and games if they felt the impact of inflation. It will be the nightlife sectors that will be hit hardest though, with far larger shares of consumers stating they would eat out less and go out less. Even live consumers said they would go to fewer gigs.

The responses are similar to when we asked consumers how they would respond to a potential recession back in 2019, but with one major difference: back in 2019, consumers were generally more concerned then, than they are now. Whether that is misplaced optimism is another thing entirely.

Survive-to-thrive

All entertainment and leisure companies will feel the combined effect of the attention recession. It is a case of simple arithmetic: more time and more spend during the pandemic benefited all companies. Post-pandemic, both of those increases recede, which means that all entertainment companies have to fight hard to hold onto their newly found boosts to revenue and users, let alone grow. The shocks to the global economy and geo-politics will compound matters further. Rising inflation is going to hit all consumers’ pockets (with food and fuel prices being particularly hit), forcing many households to make trade-offs between essentials and luxuries.

In this coming attention recession, it will be the entertainment companies that are able to quickly and fluidly adapt their models, billing, pricing, programming, and user engagement strategies that will be best placed to retain, even win, audiences during the downturn.

For more information on MIDiA’s new Critical Developments coverage area, email jonathan@midiaresearch.com