These sudden outbursts in popularity of obscure viral content aren’t a new development but TikTok, everyone and their dog’s favourite social media app of the year, certainly took viral content to a new level and is bringing fame, and in Mr. Apodaca’s case, even financial benefit, to a whole new generation of creators. Unlike other social media apps before, TikTok as a system doesn’t really care about its creators, it’s all about the content. And as TikTok’s staff likes to point out, truly everyone has a chance to be blessed by the algorithm and become a viral sensation overnight on the platform and beyond. Or maybe one just needs the right hashtags.
This certainly adds to the charm of TikTok, especially when compared to everyone’s favorite from yesteryear, Instagram, where success often came from an endless battle over follower count and engagement metrics, to the point where working with influencers on the platform can pretty much be handled the same as a regular media booking elsewhere. Is it efficient? Absolutely. But it also lacks that special kind of magic and excitement brands can find on the unpredictable rabbit hole that is TikTok. Good thing, the US government apparently forgot that it wanted to ban the app a couple of months ago. Which, in 2020 levels of weird, doesn’t even qualify for the top-20.
However, success requires playing by TikTok’s rules. Branded content is competing with everything else TikTok has to offer. This means planning a campaign months ahead based on a carefully crafted strategic foundation with a perfectly executed creative, might just be too slow since the constantly evolving trends on the platform might look completely different by launch time. TikTok, in common with other digital platforms, requires agility and the willingness to be fast, not perfect, to achieve success. While Triller and Byte, two other vertical video apps attracting users that are looking for alternatives to the now mainstream juggernaut that is TikTok, offer a whole new set of creative possibilities.
With most of the population stuck at home, the spring and summer of 2020 gave an additional boost to the already booming space of streaming entertainment. Especially platforms like Twitch attracted millions of new viewers, who found distraction in gaming and esports streams, or simply started looking for new forms of entertainment after having binged every bit of content on Netflix.
Streaming platforms and the gaming space were also the sole glimmer of hope for many artists around the world, from musicians to DJs, to actors. Epic Games, already experimenting with turning their blockbuster title Fortnite into an event space, launched their Party Royale mode, repurposing the colourful battle royal shooter into a venue for players to enjoy concerts and DJ-sets within the game world, while music venues around the world are closed.
Utilizing games for anything other than their intended purpose doesn’t necessarily require the publisher’s consent and co-operation. Hollywood screenwriter Garry Whitta launching ‘Animal Talking’, a late-night talk show featuring celebrity guests, live music and comedy, all happening in the colorful cutesy game world of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and being streamed live on Twitch - probably wouldn’t have happened in any other year. But with all major late night talk shows on TV on production break, celebrity guests like Elijah Wood, Brie Larson and Sting spent their time like the rest of us, decorating Animal Crossing Islands.
Germany’s Twitch event of the year wasn’t nearly as glamorous, but when German Twitch streamer Knossi teamed up with rapper Sido and friends to spend 72 hours in the Berlin outback to go fishing, over 5 million viewers tuned in over the course of the weekend, setting new records on the platform. Even politicians are turning to the gaming space to reach out to young voters. US house members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar spent an evening on Twitch, playing “Among Us” with a crew of creators while encouraging viewers to vote in the upcoming election.
The success of these new, creative content formats in the greater gaming and streaming space, closely resonates with the media usage habits of young target groups. Gaming and streaming, especially among Generation Z, are true social spaces, venues to meet friends and like-minded people, to hang out, have fun and find moments of respite in troubling times.
These events are only the first wave of a new era of niche entertainment that will likely only gain more popularity in the future. The potential for brands in the space is vast and currently mostly untapped. From simply enabling the production through sponsoring, product placement and integration to working with content creators. However, as with TikTok, trends and opportunities move fast, so it is advisable to build a trusted network of content creator partners to become part of a new generation of entertainment for a new generation of consumers.