Internet and Micro-Celebrities

If you have been reading between the lines of the internet lately, quite several people from the cinema industry are landing up on Youtube and have started posting content in the form of vlogs. This caught me a bit off guard. One question has been brewing in my mind since then. And that is "Why now? What could have possibly triggered this transition?" After some thought, I've landed on some ideas.

To phrase the phenomenon in one sentence, it is this:

The internet has democratized celebrity.

The change is happening incrementally over the years and now it has started to take effect. It has started to show. You might be wondering what is the democratization of celebrity? Read on.

In the pre-internet era, there were a handful of avenues for people to become popular within a large population. The most dominant source was the cinema industry. The competition was tough. Still, there was some leeway for everyone in the game. Being a celebrity came with its own set of advantages. Suddenly, they had alternate sources of making money. Brand advertisers chased them. They had the power to influence a lot of people. Fans who could not afford a luxurious lifestyle like them bought products endorsed by them to own the sense of walking in their shoes. Everything was perfect. The money-making ship was sailing smoothly.

Television was the exclusive medium of mass broadcasting of shows, movies, and ads. The cable companies have more choices for what to broadcast than the population had choices for what they wanted to watch. There was very little flexibility of choice per se. This sort of remediated by the DTH providers. You could choose packages based on your interests and also record shows to watch later. This gave some sense of autonomy and asynchronicity. Still, it was highly regularized. To be popular among a large mass, you had to appear on TV. And to be on the TV, you had to have access to the doors of the entertainment industry.

The advent of the internet overturned the monopoly of television entertainment. The social media platforms only exceeded this. Suddenly, any human on the planet could broadcast to the whole world. The internet was not controlled by any one company. All you needed was a smartphone and an internet connection. That was the minimum requirement. Boredom was dead. The internet gave way to the smartphone revolution. The smartphone stirred up the social media phenomenon. And social media ultimately gave way to unlimited freedom of expression. The masses were not bounded anymore by the cable and media companies for the distribution of gossip. Pop culture grew in full swing.

Thinking in the context of the attention economy now, the distribution of attention is rather shallow than before. In the era of television dominance, fewer people were popular. Consequently, the media tried to stitch mysterious gossips around them. The attention of the masses was dense and in control. In contrast, today the internet has made a celebrity of all of us. There is so much gossip that our minds can't comprehend all of it. The control has been shifted to the internet and social media companies. People are no longer attracted to forced entertainment. Everyone is watching everyone. Everyone just wants to know "What's happening?".

Today, we are witnessing the emergence of micro-celebrities on social networking platforms like Instagram, Youtube, and TikTok. These people own a massive following and interact directly with their followers without any intermediary. There are no distribution costs. The setup costs are minimal. The friction has been removed. All you need is creativity. Attention is the new commodity that can be traded with the advertisers. The advertisers now don't have to chase people from the cinema and television industry. The attention of the masses has been distributed. So are the incentives. It's a new three-party system - social media platforms, the micro-celebrities, and the brand advertisers. Now the game has become positive-sum. The platforms are rapidly attracting more people to join them. The advertisers can reach more people to sell their products at decreased costs than before. And the micro-celebrities can have desired fame and wealth.

The internet has provided a level playing field with anyone with a creative endeavor. It has disrupted the traditional monopolistic value chain governed by the cinema and the television industry. Now, value is being created at every device that is connected to it. Platforms like TikTok are creating nano-celebrities. The definition of celebrity is changing. So are the strategy and tactics of players involved in the ecosystem.

We will see in future posts how these same effects are disrupting every part of our society and our own lives.