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The Age of Digital First Talent

At Futuresource’s recent New Content Horizons event in London, the closing keynote was presented by Gleam Futures CEO Dominic Smales. Gleam is the talent management behind the likes of Zoella, Marcus Butler, Jim Chapman and Victoria McGrath from IntheFrow, names perhaps not instantly recognisable to everyone but certainly to the digital-first generation around the world and with fan engagement larger (and more measurable) than some more widely recognised A-list celebrities.

Like more traditional celebrities, they are the stars of videos; however, ones that are self-produced, generally at home, about their hobbies and interests and uploaded to YouTube. A simple proposition, yet each of the above names has a following in excess of 1 million with talent like Zoella racking up northwards of 18 million followers on YouTube, in addition to continually rising coverage across all platforms.

Dominic illustrated the incredible influence and power these people/brands have with content potentially more valuable than what is usually thought. Consumer brands are already taking advantage of this reach, and the entertainment world is beginning to recognise this as a valuable medium too.

So, what’s behind all the fuss? 


Authenticity has been fundamental to the ever-expanding reach of these individuals. A relationship is built with the audience, enabled by the two-way connection social media allows. In figures, the recognition these new-found celebrities garner is similar to Hollywood A-listers, but perhaps still not considered to have the same level of respect. However, as this industry grows, that is sure to change. When leading e-tail sites run out of stock of an outfit promoted by Victoria McGrath or bookstores are shut down due to overcrowding for a book signing of Zoella, how could it not?

And whilst these stars aren’t in high budget action films or dramatic TV shows, the honesty and simplicity of their videos are still resonating and having a different impact. These videos are relatively low budget, still have high quality visuals, but don’t require expensive props and settings. What this allows for is quick and frequent content, responding to the demands of a highly tech savvy, on-demand audience that can’t wait for the production schedule of a network.

Then there’s the factor that these bloggers are just themselves. For a marketer, this is incredibly valuable as audiences trust in a product that is either sponsored in a video, or just casually used. From a traditional content perspective, notable characters such as this can help to expand the lifetime engagement of new TV shows and films if utilised in the right way.

But increasingly this “digital first talent” is seeking to reach beyond the containment of YouTube and social media, with many now opting to release their own product lines and books.  In the US, there is further progression occurring, with video moving away from just ad-funded content to stars producing films with the likes of Lionsgate, creating content as part of social content creator Fullscreen Media’s SVoD service and now increasingly venturing into linear TV shows.

There are many parallels between this industry and the traditional talent that we are used to. Going back to the 1960s, soap operas came into the public eye primarily to showcase cleaning products to housewives - an initiative driven by Procter and Gamble. However, since then, these daytime shows (I’m sure you’ve all heard of ‘Days of our Lives’) have moved to prime-time slots and command some of the highest audience figures for linear TV. They are creating content people want to see, networks are forming around them, and different forms of monetisation are emerging aside from advertisements/sponsorships. With these foundations in place, this generation of talent are creating a new entertainment ecosystem - perhaps just more reachable.

About the author

Amisha Chauhan

About Us

Here at Futuresource Consulting we deliver specialist research and consulting services, providing market forecasts and intelligence reports. Since the 1980s we have supported a range of industry sectors, which has grown to include: CE, Broadcast, Entertainment Content, EdTech and many more.