Post-pandemic media culture is full of stories, experiences and characters. Brands have adopted an omni-channel approach that goes far beyond traditional transmedia. They integrate different tools and features into one platform or metaverse. Companies and creators experiment with generative AI and other tools to create content in a rapid pace. Since these tools are not heavily regulated, they come with drawbacks.
This transmedia report explores key media trends of 2022. The creator economy has accelerated but the cost of continuous production and liveness burdens creators. Healthier and more inclusive models are discussed at length in the industry. How can we facilitate a landscape that is sustainable and inclusive for consumers and producers?
Content has proven to be potent business in 2022. The Creator Economy is a fact, and exploding. TikTok, Twitch, YouTube and other platforms have facilitated economies to emerge around content and content creators. The Creator Economy thrives on the connection with fans, but also on content diversification. Creators experiment with long format and short format where it fits the platform, and yield new audiences as a result.
Transmedia is a given in this landscape, but the dynamics move in more complex ways than ever before. Increasingly audiences may become familiar with a show or brand through a meme or short video, rather than the source material. Take for example the Bloody Mary music video inspired by Wednesday which circulates on TikTok and YouTube. It is a perfect blend of Lady Gaga’s song (sped-up) and Wednesday’s quirky dance moves. The edit went viral and circulated as a dance challenge across the globe. Lady Gaga herself did the challenge as well. A new phenomenon emerged, using the Netflix show as a starting point.
Today, such complex circulation is almost the norm. Trendwatchers and media scholars need to take note, since it disrupts many of the paradigms we take for granted. Audiences find their way to brands and stories via short form content and commentary (“paratext”), not via the original product. Being sensitive to your content as a lived product, that can become adopted and appropriated by digital subcultures, is important.
DALL-E 2, ChatGPT, Stable Diffusion, while generative AI has been around for quite some years, in 2022 the wider audience took note of their possibilities. Creating our own images and text was never this easy with the help of AI tools. It has facilitated interesting projects already, such as this scene-by-scene revision of Star Wars, in the style of Andrei Tarkovsky. No wonder that Adobe and other companies explore the integration of AI in their services.
Artists and other users worry though. Their data is being used without permission in some of these databases. Other databases are created from scratch, as revealed in the in-depth article The Explotation Behind Artificial Intelligence. ‘Large corporations claiming to be “AI first” are fueled by this army of underpaid gig workers, such as data laborers, content moderators, warehouse workers and delivery drivers.’ Behind the power of AI are precarious workers who keep generating data.
Many current AI tools are not transparent, border on copyright infringement and avoid regulation. The art is also prone to misuse. For instance, some users also sell the AI art generated for free on online stores and offline conventions as if it’s their own art. Several fan conventions have already banned the selling of AI art. The discussion around the regulation, training and ethics of AI art is certainly not over yet.
While AI tools have possibilities in assisting creators, they first need to be optimized and more transparent. I expect 2023 will be less about AI innovation, and more about how to regulate these tools in a safe and inclusive way. This could involve new collaborations, such as licensing art as training data for AI. Next year the discussion will be about these new business models. It will also be about the detection of AI-generated art and text to help different sectors that value authenticity, such as education and art.
The Fan as Person of the Year
Transmedia worldbuilding has become a household staple. Many story worlds were expended, from House of Dragon (GoT) to Rings of Power (LoTR). We were treated to Wednesday and a new Avatar sequel that was years in the making. Being a fan is almost mainstream in this landscape of reunions, revivals and character marketing.
However, from these large worlds we have also moved to an appreciation of short format, small-scale content and personal stories. These increasingly come with a degree of ownership. We play with our favorite characters in Fortnite, buy them as NFT’s and extend their stories ourselves. DC for instance launched a Metaverse where you can own unique Batman fashion and play in an extended universe. Fans are not just audiences and participants, but co-owners of a brand.
The Person of the Year of 2022 was undoubtedly the fan, who companies and creators increasingly cater to. Unique personalized experiences, assets and play styles are facilitated to encourage and engage fans. Audiences are part of this journey with content creators. This raises questions – who curates these experiences and how? How can fan engagement best be maintained?
Smaller fan cultures are increasingly the norm, built around creators. As any streamer, podcast host or YouTuber knows, such a career depends on such a loyal following. However, to facilitate this engagement creators sometimes stretch their limits. They are always on, providing for their fanbase. How fan-driven and active this engagement be, for instance around one a creator? What is realistic?
The personal relationship between creators and fans is fundamental in today’s creator economy, but also raises questions. Parasocial relationships thrive, but are they enough for creators? What are new ways to monetize this engagement? Crowdfunding helps, but is essentially just a band-aid for a platform economy that gives creators little revenue. It is a reason why many creators are experiment with NFT’s and other ways to monetize content, as discussed last year. This trend will undoubtedly persist until we find a way to reward participation more in today’s platform economy.