As the Hollywood strike approaches its fifth month, many of the far-reaching areas of the industry are starting to feel the effects. That includes social media influencers — a growing contingent of content creators who don't quite fall into traditional industry roles, but still play a huge part in promoting the latest films, television series, games, and more.
An Influencer's Role In The Modern Entertainment Industry
While influencers are entertainers themselves — often writing and filming various types of content that reaches anywhere from thousands to millions of people on a weekly basis — they aren't typically seen as a traditional part of the entertainment industry. That can, in many cases, come down to the type of content they create, which is usually short, in vertical formats, and sometimes unscripted. It can also be due to industry prejudices against creators who build audiences without going through traditional industry gatekeepers.
However, influencers have become a critical part of most major studios' promotion plans. It's not uncommon to see these content creators gracing the red carpets of premieres or showing up at performances of hot-ticket musicals and tours. That's because these creators have built serious trust with their audience and studios know that for certain audiences, an appearance by an influencer can do more for a project than the best review in the New York Times.
In some cases, these content creators have built followings so large they actually make the jump from the carpet to the screen themselves (to mixed results). But even the influencers with moderately sized audiences in the tens of thousands have a role in the industry, getting paid anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars by brands and studios to create a well-rounded marketing approach to the latest entertainment options.
The Influencer's Ethical Struggle Amid The Hollywood Strike
A lot of influencers have expressed solidarity with the striking writers and performers. That's because many of them are writers and performers themselves — and a lot of the reasons the WGA and SAG-AFTRA members are striking resonates with influencers.
Concerns over theft of name, image, and likeness apply to creators of all kinds. Protections against AI impersonations, fair pay, and copyright protections matter to studio writers and social media stars alike. However, influencers don't necessarily have the same protections as full-fledged members of these unions.
SAG-AFTRA recently introduced an influencer agreement that provides some guidelines for influencers amid the Hollywood strike, as well as some protections for them that are afforded to typical union members. That includes allowing influencers to fulfill any existing agreements with struck companies, but also making sure they agree not to take on additional work from these companies, lest they be barred future entry into SAG. In exchange, influencers who join SAG-AFTRA under the influencer agreement will receive the same protections as other members, including pension and health benefits.
Some influencers have found it easy to turn down work from studios since it's only a small part of what they do anyway. There are plenty of other brands and opportunities for these creators, including earning money from their own content. But many influencers simply can't afford to not take work in solidarity with the strike. As with working members in the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, there's a huge disparity between top earners and niche influencers in growing communities.
That's not to say every influencer agrees with the strike. Some influencers also don't care if they're ever part of SAG-AFTRA or WGA, so they'll continue to do the work regardless. But a lot of them are facing a pretty dire ethical dilemma, especially when it comes down to whether or not they'll be able to make rent that month.
Many actors and famous personalities have contributed to funds that help support striking writers and performers. But as of right now, it's unclear if influencers will be able to receive support from these types of funds if striking in solidarity but not strictly members of the unions.
Will The Hollywood Strike Lead To The Next Evolution In Content?
Strikes have famously led to a lot of positive developments for workers. You know, like workplace safety guarantees, better pay, and the existence of weekends. But they've also spurred significant trends in entertainment, too.
You may have heard that the 2007 strike led to a boom in reality television. While that link is actually pretty tenuous at best, there's no doubt that these strikes play a big role in how we consume (and produce) content. When studios and writers/performers ultimately come to an agreement, there will be a flurry of greenly projects waiting to start production.
There will also be a pretty big gap in available content — something consumers will really start to feel in the coming months, as all the projects that were nearly done prior to the strike have already hit the theaters, shelves, and streaming services. That means we might expect a burst of potentially rushed content just to get "something" out there, or even a reliance on covering more live events and competitions.
Content creators with their own YouTube channels, podcasts, and other types of medium to long-form content will likely continue to see increases in their audience, even as some of them pivot to cover other topics in the absence of major studio entertainment.
There are still a lot more questions than answer right now when it comes to how the Hollywood strike will affect content in the years to come. But one thing is for certain: every type of content creator needs to pay attention to the developments and understand what's at stake for creators.