The Democratization of Content: Free = Playing The Long Game (of Monetization & Fandom)

Why The NFL & studios like Paramount are giving away their most prized content FOR FREE & how they're potentially making millions as a result! And how one creator made $458K in her first 9 months on TikTok by making free/accessible content around salary transparency.

Welcome back to Meagan’s Newsletter: The Gen Z POV, where I break down trends, industries, and tech with a Gen Z lens every other week. I’m Meagan and I’m so happy you’re here. Today we’re diving into the democratization of content — how studios, the biggest brands, and creators alike are re-thinking their content strategy, making content free and accessible to play the long-game with building fandom and monetization.

I’ve seen a bunch of examples of this over the past few weeks, so this is very timely. Below I’ll break down each of these case studies & how by democratizing content, they’re changing their respective industries:

  • Sports (The NFL): The NFL gives creators access to its archives for content creation with pre-approved footage, and creators can monetize their videos on YouTube (a recurring theme across industries… will explain) 🏈

  • Entertainment (Paramount): Paramount makes their hit teen movie “Mean Girls” available for free on TikTok for one day across 23 ten-minute clips… and gained 228K followers. They’ll be able to make real $$$ in the long-term AND this might serve as a future business model for studios (and pay transparency for actors, writers, etc.) 💁‍♀️

  • Creator Economy (Hannah Williams): By creating transparency around salary / pay (content that’s not typically free or available…), this creator gained 1.1M followers on TikTok & made $458K in income all in only 9 months. 🤑

Also apologies for the infrequency in my writing… now that I’ve started at Oxford, I’m finding it harder and harder to set aside time to write.

BUT I am flexing other content muscles & growing that way (especially with video-first content) — had my first viral video on TikTok/IG which got 15M views & landed me 38K new followers in this past week alone… life is crazy when you lean into what you love ❤️ 

Now let’s get into it ⬇️

The NFL: Re-Imagining Licensing to Unlock Viewership & Younger Fanbases

Now who doesn’t love football!! Apparently people don’t love football enough, because the NFL’s viewership declined during the 2022 season — across all viewing sources, the average audience totaled 16.7 million, compared to 17.1 million in 2021.

In spite of this, the NFL (imho) has always been at the forefront of leaning into new ways to grow / innovate. Two quick examples before I get into the content democratization:

  • Quick thinking on socials to catch fans in-the-moment: when Taylor Swift attended her first Chiefs game, the socials team leaned in HARD — posting multiple videos showing TS at the game, changing their bio and cover photo on TikTok/Twitter to continue the conversation around the NFL, and ultimately boosting viewership by 60% (driven by young, female viewers).

  • One of the first brands to explore the metaverse: The NFL leaned in early to Roblox, knowing that half of children in America are playing on Roblox everyday (aka their future fanbase). They created experiences to match game-time, digital merch so young fans could rock their favorite team jerseys, and even monetizing in new ways.

    • Ie: in Jan 2023, the NFL launched a Roblox game called Super NFL Tycoon, powered by a big sponsorship from Intuit ($$$). Oh AND a full BOSS x NFL collection featuring 22 team designs available online, at BOSS retail stores, and even international retailers.

TLDR: the NFL is good at thinking on their feet & also finding ways to make money while attracting new audiences. Their latest move to give creators access to archived & licensed NFL game content is no different.

There have been 17,444 games in NFL history. With an average of say 2 touchdowns per game, that’s 34,888 touchdowns just sitting in the NFL archives waiting to be seen & made into interesting cuts/edits that would resonate with a new audience. Not including interceptions, crazy field goal kicks, etc. — you get my drift.

However, the NFL’s job isn’t to create cool cuts of all their existing footage in a way that would appeal to younger users — their focus with social media is to drive awareness of what’s happening NOW, increasing viewership (and sales) in-season.

If you look at the NFL’s TikTok page (12.1M followers, 566M likes), they’re showing content from recent games & building fandom that way. They’ve posted 17 videos in the past 24 hours, 14 of which focused on intriguing game footage from this past week (no crazy cuts, edits, or personality… just showing it how it is).

When you’re creating content on social media, it’s important to stay “on brand” to appeal to the algorithm and stay true to your fanbase. Many fans, for example, likely follow the NFL on TikTok to keep up-to-date on what’s happening during games, to see the best highlights, etc.

The NFL knows this, so they’re choosing to appeal to more casual fans and different audiences by tapping into creators, encouraging them to create content in their own way using licensed/pre-approved NFL footage FOR FREEEEE. OH and they can monetize their edits on YouTube!

The NFL can keep their broadcast partners happy by reserving real-time & recent footage for TV, while still making use of evergreen content that’s just sitting around waiting to be re-edited by a creator who can see it in a new light (and share it with their audiences).

Paramount: Giving Away Feature Films (For FREE) to Drive Fans Towards New Releases

The studio behind the new Mean Girls Musical Movie (Paramount) dominated headlines by doing something revolutionary… giving away the entire original Mean Girls movie for free for 24 hours on TikTok. They captured the cultural zeitgeist by doing so on October 3rd (an iconic day in the Mean Girls fanbase), and also drove conversation because typically studios don’t just “give away” their movies for free.

The mindset for studios historically has been to ban free content being uploaded to social media platforms in favor of driving audiences to pay for the movie on streaming sites, for one-time use on Google Play or YouTube, etc. And I get it! There are a lot of people that need to get paid every time a movie is watched (writers, actors, producers, etc.)…

However, with the rise of platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services… many of those people are not getting paid long-term when their movies are watched millions of times. This is the basis of renegotiations for the months-long strikes happening in Hollywood — unfair pay and lack of residuals.

What’s so interesting about Paramount releasing Mean Girls for free (for one day only) is the following:

  1. A potentially new way for actors/film crew members to get paid (with transparency!): Paramount confirmed that for this 1-day Mean Girls movie appearance on TikTok, everyone involved with the movie were paid residuals. And unlike on Netflix where they don’t release how many people watched the movie, who engaged, etc… on TikTok, it’s laid out in front of you. You could tell that in the first 14 hours of releasing the movie on TikTok, it was viewed 340K times, X many people commented, this is who engaged, etc. Perhaps there will be a new way for studios to share existing movies/content and actually tie residuals to viewership/engagement on digital platforms.

  2. Long-term audience building (& monetization): The original Mean Girls movie came out in 2004 and STILL has a cult fanbase — iconic lines are quoted on a daily basis (the limit does not exist, 4 for you glen coco!), content from the film is resurrected in memes / new ways (ie: Ariana Grande recreating her “thank u, next” music video based on Mean Girls — 782M views on YouTube), etc. I was 7 years old when the movie came out & it remains one of my favorites to this day. And with Paramount releasing the Mean Girls Musical Movie (based off of the broadway play) in January… they successfully found a way to re-engage Mean Girls’ existing fanbase by meeting fans where they are (on TikTok). They know everyone watches Mean Girls content on October 3rd (because of the famous scene in the movie, which is why it’s known as Mean Girls Day), so this year they leveraged their momentum to curate TikTok’s Mean Girls fanbase into a dedicated account (@meangirls launched on TikTok in September, gained 200K+ followers on October 3rd). And now they’re going to drive that fanbase towards their next play: their bio reads “Get in loser, we’re going to the movie Jan 12” — aka the date of the new Mean Girls Movie Musical premiere (and their link in bio reflects this).

Paramount is playing the long game by giving away free content for a single day… and in exchange, curating a following of dedicated fans & monetizing future content directly with that audience.

Just you wait, we’ll be seeing more studios experiment with licensing (and monetizing) archived content in new ways on socials.

Hannah Williams Democratizing Salary Content (And Making BANK)

This case study is slightly different in that it’s not a brand re-imagining existing content… but it DOES play along the same lines of making content free/accessible & finding new ways to monetize.

Salary information is typically really hard to access, especially if you’re searching across states, across industries, etc. — unequal pay is everywhere, and you never know if you’re lowballing yourself. Compensation startup Pave quite literally created a billion-dollar business around this, helping founders/startups get visibility into data around what they should be paying their employees (what’s fair market across geographies, roles, levels, etc.).

Hannah Williams, the 26-year-old creator behind Salary Transparent Street (1.3M followers on TikTok), is changing this for everyday people by making salary transparency more accessible through content. She interviews people on the street across cities in the U.S., asking them what they do, how much they get paid, and how many years of experience they have — it’s as simple as that.

And she’s been able to monetize in a pretty big way, pulling in a whopping $458,000 in her first 9 months on TikTok after starting the channel last year. Usually TikTok is a challenging place for creators to monetize, but Hannah has cracked the code through sponsorships. She signed a 6-month partnership with Indeed worth $280k and another contract last November for $95k… people are looking for salary transparency, and there are companies willing to pay for access to that audience Hannah has curated.

Not to mention, she’s creating her OWN data play (and you know how much I love zero-party data…) which will likely be worth even more in the long-run.

  • Similar to Pave, she’s created a database with thousands of searchable, verified salaries from her interviews (over 5,000 people have shared their salaries with Hannah).

  • Unlike Pave, she’s giving away that data for FREE (vs. behind a paywall or subscription), and she’ll likely find other ways to monetize it over-time. Instead, she’s choosing to build trust and play the long-game with her audience, adding value first-and-foremost.

I truly believe this marks a new era in the world of entertainment and content — where free in the short-term can mean more money in the long-run by building rapport with a curated fanbase/audience (whether it’s on owned channels or leveraging creator-owned channels).

There are plenty of other examples of the momentum of finding value in archived content. This has been happening with YouTube creators (and their content catalogs) for months, even years, with investors snatching up historical catalogs for millions — see the below excerpt from a Fortune article last December:

This feels like we’re in the early innings, and I’m excited to watch the space unfold. If you know of other examples across industries that I missed, definitely reply and let me know! And if you’re a studio or brand re-imagining your archived content… I’m at [email protected]m & would love to help 🙂 

And as promised, here are a few things (tech, culture & life) I’m intrigued by at the moment.

  • Tech: I didn’t think it was possible for Meta to get creepier… but sometimes I’m wrong! The new Familiar Faces product where they pay top celebrities (Paris Hilton, Tom Brady, Kendall Jenner) a couple million dollars to use their likeness for an AI chatbot is creeping me out big time. Kendall Jenner’s alter ego, @yoursisbillie on IG, already has 140K followers and is likely compiling data on her followers deepest darkest secrets. I want to see celebrities being transparent on how this data is being used for good vs. just licensing out their face/videos for a random cash grab (without understanding the repercussions for bringing in their fan bases on a largely untested product/concept).

  • Culture: Boy oh boy I am LOVING the Taylor Swift x Travis Kelce stuff — literally I see videos of him helping her out of the car and I’m giggling / kicking my feet. Also loved the Taylor Swift x NFL collab I mentioned above and how she’s brought a massive group of women to engage with football/the Chiefs. Speaking of Taylor, the way she continues to elevate the world around us is crazy — iconic brands like Heinz creating collabs simply because she was eating “seemingly ranch” with her chicken tenders, bypassing studios to bring The Eras Tour Film to theatres directly & making $123.5M in opening weekend (which I saw, and it was AMAZING), etc. Her impact has no bounds.

  • Life: I’m entering my video-first content creator era!!! And funnily enough, my videos are performing better on IG vs. TikTok — I tend to share videos from my life (typically aesthetic travel or UK/Oxford content) across both platforms and have gained 22K followers on IG and 15K followers on TikTok in the past week, largely from my viral video showcasing a “typical evening at Oxford” aka one of my formal dinners that we have 3x a week here. I’ve shared content from my matriculation ceremony (313K views on IG Reels), my day trip to Bath (40K views), and day-in-the-life content (55K views) among other things. So now I’m active on Twitter (43K), LinkedIn (44K), Instagram (24K), and TikTok (17K) — 128K followers and counting 🚀

And I couldn’t be more grateful to you for reading my content / subscribing to my newsletter. This isn’t a newsletter built for scale or that even monetizes… it’s a place for me to collect my thoughts, share deep dives on topics I care about, and connect with people that are thinking about the same things. And sometimes, it can lead to incredible opportunities (ie: helping major brands implement new strategies or reach Gen Z)!

So again… thank you. Will be trying to write every 2-3 weeks, but please be patient with me while I’m in school at Oxford ❤️ 

P.S. shoutout to my friends Eric Wei & Scott Van den Berg! I heard about the NFL/content news from Eric on LinkedIn (Founder of Karat) and about Hannah Williams’ story from Scott (Founder of Influencer Capital) this week on his viral post sharing details about Hannah’s journey + creator income!