Digital content: our current everything

To open cheerily – at the time of writing, in the UK, restaurants are closed and lockdown forbids socializing with anyone but your cohabitants. In lieu of anything else to do (writing your novel aside) digital content has become our everything; needless to say: we’re consuming a huge amount of it.

A captive audience like never before

Audiences, then, are there for the taking, which has admittedly always been the case (YouTube has 2 billion monthly active users) but now they’re literally and figuratively captive. Add the fact the digital content market is poised to grow by $519.83 billion by 2024 and with other forms of advertising spend dwindling, it means content creators have a unique opportunity to expand their reach, and up those all-important metrics – traffic, dwell time; click throughs and watch time.

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Source: Technavio: Global Digital Content Market, 2020-2024

The increased potential for digital ad revenue (as the ultimate reward for increased reach) isn’t the only reason now is a good time to monetize. Paid partnerships have always been lucrative and they may pay up quicker than advertising, but with the world on the edge of (if not already in) recession, and with marketing budgets slashed, brands are being more strategic about who they partner with and to what end. But that doesn’t mean they won’t pay for collaboration. After all, content creators offer a 360 solution – creation, editing and an engaged audience – in a time when other forms of advertising (TV and OOH) are logistically problematic with less guarantees on ROI. Being able to offer smart brands with reduced marketing budgets, a direct line to an engaged audience is a powerful tool at the disposal of creators.

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Source: Influencer Marketing Hub: 2020 Benchmark report

The rise and rise of direct-to-creator monetization

Those diminished brand marketing budgets during the pandemic have been the unwitting catalyst of another shift. Pre-pandemic, the monetization of content was predicated on certain markers of value, like the size of following and watch time, which meant there were limitations on who could monetize. And while these indicators are in no way obsolete, other monetization tools, which don’t rely on them, have come to the fore. With people spending more time at home, the value of content – as escapism, entertainment, fitness, company – has altered. What consumers care about is being able to access reliable sources of relevant content in easily digestible formats: video! And they’re willing to pay for it themselves.

What we’re calling the direct-to-creator monetization model (it’s a bit like direct-to-consumer: think Glossier or Dollar Shave Club – no middleman) allows devoted followers to support their favourite content creators by voluntarily paying them directly by subscription or one-off payment platforms like Patreon, Substack, Steady Media and Memberful. This places more emphasis on followers’ commitment, secured by the relevance and reliability of the content, meaning that revenue can be generated from niche content more easily and consistently.

Month over month growth chart
Source: Techcrunch

This uptake in subscription/contribution models came before video content giant Instagram hastened the launch of its own monetization tools. Since June, it’s been piloting creator payment badges for Instagram Live, and will roll out IGTV ads with revenue splits. In-channel advertising isn’t new – we know YouTube splits ad revenue with its creators and platforms like Twitch have employed a sponsorship model for years – but it does mean there’s soon going to be another major platform through which creators can monetize.

More opportunity, more competition?

With the playing field levelled and more content creators able to make money, isn’t there the risk of cannibalisation. Not necessarily. With working habits shifting and less chance to socialise, there’s more than enough audience to go around.

That said, the economic truths of a global pandemic can’t be ignored and while monetization tools have never been better, they’re still operating in a time of uncertainty. Perhaps, then, it’s essential to caveat our “now-is-the-time” to monetize argument by highlighting the current demand for content that knows what it sets out to do. Be useful, be skill-building, be educational, be escapist, be funny, be off-the-wall, but most of all be clear what your audience wants because when monetizing, that’s your most valuable asset.