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Hollywood, music industry braces for a TikTok ban


LOS ANGELES — David Ma, a film director in Brooklyn, never had the money to go to film school. And while he loved making movies, he was largely excluded from the kinds of opportunities reserved for major directors with Hollywood connections. Then came TikTok.

Ma joined the app in 2020 and gained an instant following due to his unique style of directing. Studio executives and Hollywood executives took notice, and suddenly Ma got directing jobs. The whole trajectory of his career changed.

“I was never on the radar on places like Netflix or HBO Max or Paramount,” he said. “Since I was able to create work on the platform, my work has reached studio executives and marketing departments. TikTok allowed me to build that network without having the roster or resume.

Since the last time the US government considered banning TikTok in 2020, the app has evolved from a social platform supporting a robust ecosystem of content creators and small businesses to an entertainment powerhouse, upending Hollywood’s power structures. moves and rewrites the rules of the entertainment landscape. A ban would now pose no threat to the livelihood of TikTok’s biggest stars and thousands of small businesses could be a huge blow to the entertainment industry, forcing movie studios, record labels, casting directors, Hollywood agents and actors to revolutionize the way they do business.

“TikTok is the most democratized content platform we’ve ever had and it has revolutionized Hollywood,” said Adam Faze, studio chief of FazeWorld, an entertainment studio that produces scripted and unscripted shows. “I see TikTok as the old days of free network TV… If we take it away, we go back to an era where we depend on old media brands and what Hollywood wants us to see because they are the only ones who can afford marketing . budget to find an audience.”

TikTok has provided those traditionally excluded from the media and entertainment industry with a way to bypass old gatekeepers and get a foot in the door.

That’s consistent with what a recent Washington Post poll found about TikTok’s audience: its users are more likely to be young and non-white.

The poll found that 53 percent of non-white adults (including 67 percent of Hispanic adults) used TikTok in the past month, compared to 29 percent of white adults. Fifty-nine percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 used TikTok in the past month, compared to just 13 percent of those over 65.

TikTok users are also more likely to have lower incomes: 45 percent of those with household incomes less than $50,000 used TikTok in the previous month, compared to 32 percent of those with incomes of $100,000 or more. And people without a college degree were more likely to have used TikTok in the past month (42 percent) than those with a college degree (32 percent).

Faze started producing scripted and unscripted TV shows for TikTok last year after discovering that he could reach millions of viewers at scale overnight. A show produced by Fazeworld called “Keep the Meter Running”, in which comedian Kareem Rahma conducts Anthony Bourdain-style interviews with taxi drivers as they adventure together, became an overnight hit, gaining millions of views.

“Three weeks after we did the show, we went to London to shoot an episode, and we were chased down the street by kids saying, ‘This is my favorite show,'” Faze said. “TikTok helped the show find an audience in a way that would have taken years in traditional media.”

Unlike platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, TikTok bills itself as an entertainment platform, not a social network. Instead of relying on users to make friends or follow dozens of accounts to find interesting content, the app delivers a new feed of videos every day through the “For You” feed. In that way, it’s just as much a Netflix, HBO, or Spotify competitor as it is a social platform.

“I’ve never in my entire life in Hollywood been able to talk about a project I’m working on and assume the person I’m talking to has seen it,” said Faze. “TikTok made that possible.”

While there’s no authoritative figure of how much money studios spend publishing their offerings on TikTok, it’s clear that the platforms’ role in launching new movies is huge. When a TikTok trend takes off around a movie, it results in box office gold.

Last year, following a TikTok trend where teens dressed up in suits to see “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” Universal Pictures saw ticket sales soar. The Minions movie grossed over $940 million worldwide at the box office, becoming the fifth highest grossing movie of 2022. Movies like M3GAN and Cocaine Bear have also become hits with the help of TikTok.

Alex Sanger, executive vice president of global digital marketing at Universal Pictures, said the company relies “heavily” on TikTok when it comes to marketing its films. “TikTok is how we can basically reach everyone at scale,” he said. “We use it as an awareness builder, we use it to drive deeper engagement with our IP, we use it further down the funnel to convert people into moviegoers. We certainly use all other platforms, but they have different functionality and different uses.”

“If our films really break through [on TikTok]and kind of becoming part of the cultural zeitgeist, that’s great for us,” he added.

TikTok has said research shows that 58 percent of its users are interested in more content from entertainment studios on the platform. Last year, Variety reported that more major movie studios, including Lionsgate and Universal, used the app to achieve box office success. Sony also used TikTok to generate hype for the theatrical release of “Spider-Man: No Way Home”. It gave popular TikToker Michael Le a walk-on role in the film and enlisted TikTok content creators to share behind-the-scenes footage before the film’s release. The film became the seventh highest-grossing film in cinema history.

Last October, the app introduced a new ad format called Showtimes, specifically tailored to the needs of entertainment industry customers. The ad format makes it easier for users to discover new movies, watch trailers and buy tickets.

In addition to television and movies, TikTok has also revolutionized the music industry. It’s now the main place where young users discover new songs and artists, it’s where record labels do A&R (essentially talent scouting and talent development) and it’s what big music stars use to interact with fans in a way they say they would never been able to replicate on Instagram or YouTube.

TikTok has launched the careers of a slew of pop stars, including Lil Nas X, JVKE, and Jack Harlow. Other big artists like Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat all rose to fame after their songs went viral and became trends on the app.

Tatiana Cirisano, a music industry analyst at Midia Research, a research and consulting firm for the entertainment industry, said banning TikTok would confuse the music industry. “This isn’t just about artists losing a tool, this is an important discovery mechanism for major labels themselves,” she said. “The [potential ban] is more important and related to their bottom line than you might think.”

While many Hollywood and music industry insiders told The Post they were not lobbying publicly against the ban for fear of a political PR disaster, they were angry at what they perceived as overreaching by the government and worried that a ban would seriously harm their businesses. “Everything about how you market music and ‘break’ an artist is changing,” said Cirisano, using industry jargon for introducing a new artist. “TikTok is something the music industry has relied on in recent years to solve some of those challenges.”

It has also created a new revenue stream that the music industry has been desperately seeking. “The music industry generates revenue from music played on TikTok,” said Cirisano. “These licensing deals are becoming an increasingly important part of label revenue streams.” A TikTok ban would wipe out that revenue overnight, Cirisano said.

According to a report from Goldman Sachs, TikTok contributed an estimated 13 percent to emerging platform record label revenues by 2021. Since then, the app’s revenue has almost tripled.

As entertainment industry executives scramble to make contingency plans should the worst-case scenario materialize, industry workers are also nervous. Casting directors, agents, and model scouts all rely on TikTok to identify up-and-coming talent. The platform’s functionality is radically different from YouTube or Instagram and has enabled a generation of Hollywood talent to bypass traditional gatekeepers.

“The people I talk to agree that they fear their voices will be silenced if TikTok is banned,” says Stephen Hart, a Los Angeles actor who started creating content on TikTok during the early days of the pandemic when jobs were scarce. His TikTok account, which has more than 416,800 followers, has helped boost his profile significantly and provides a steady stream of income.

Sarah Pribis, an actress in New York City, said a TikTok ban would be financially disastrous. “I should go back to bartending,” she said. “At the moment I can do everything from home and I have a nice, loose schedule. If TikTok was banned, I’d have to stand in a bar again for eight hours a night and then come home exhausted at midnight. I would have less financial stability and freedom.”

Grant Goodman, an Atlanta actor who appeared on the TV series “Stranger Things,” said a ban would be especially damaging to actors who traditionally lack the Hollywood connections and money to move to Los Angeles.

“A TikTok ban would be an active barrier to people who want to become actors who don’t have these benefits,” he said. “It would thin out the talent pool and give an advantage to many people who can afford rent in LA and already have connections at talent agencies and other benefits, whether financial, professional or familial. A TikTok ban would deter much of the working class from even getting into this industry. People with an advantageous upbringing would have a huge advantage if the app were banned.”

Ma, the film director, agreed, reiterating that a ban could be catastrophic for people from marginalized groups pursuing careers in entertainment. “In an industry that is very difficult to break into, TikTok gives people with no education or relationships the chance to be seen, attend premieres, attend movie sets and tell their stories that they have written, starred, directed, recorded and edited,” he said. “These kinds of opportunities and visibility mean a lot to young and underrepresented filmmakers trying to make it in the industry.”

TikTok has enabled a generation of talent to bypass traditional gatekeepers, industry experts said, and to snatch that away would be a huge step backwards in terms of equality and access.

“TikTok allows an unbiased look into other people’s lives, without the need for a media institution,” said Faze. “This bill is being fueled by a media and technology establishment that is very afraid of TikTok, not because it is owned by China.”

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