July 15, 2024
How the creator economy is evolving with AI | Jim Louderback



Jim Louderback has lived through generations of tech media. He is a top leaders at the intersection of publishing, media and technology.

He wrote and edited tech magazines in the 1990s. He was the TV host of TechTV’s Fresh Gear show from 1998 to 2000. He was editor-in-chief of Ziff Davis’ media internet properties and ran PC magazine and other properties. He built and sold multiple creator economy startups to media companies including WB Discovery and Paramount. And he led editorial and ops at cable networks, event companies, magazines and digital publishers.

He ran the media firm Revision3 and in 2017 he was named CEO of VidCon, replacing VidCon cofounder Hank Green. He has served as editorial director of VidCon’s industry programming track, and I caught up with him at the recent Web Summit in Lisbon Portugal, where he was programming various tracks. I had just done an interview onstage with TommyInnit, a Minecraft creator who has more than 50 million followers. I took advantage of the moment to talk with him about the rise of the creator economy and how it will evolve with the coming of artificial intelligence.

The world of creators has always moved fast. YouTubers disrupted traditional media, and now AI VTubers may disrupt established creators. Louderback and I talked about the notion of universal basic income for creators and how it might be the kind of job that can withstand the mass job losses that could come with AI.

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Louderback currently writes the popular weekly newsletter “Inside the Creator Economy” on LinkedIn, speaks and moderates at global events and works with several startups in the creator space.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Jim Louderback at the 2023 Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

GamesBeat: This whole creator economy is very interesting to me. And like I was mentioned on stage yesterday too, like just whether it is like how it is taking shape from your point of view? Is it kind of like a one in a million sort of luck of the draw and talent that gets you famous as a creator? Or do we think that this is going to spread out so that it’s like many, many more people?

Jim Louderback: There are a couple different ways to answer that question. One is, it depends on how you define fame. You know, fame and money tend to go hand in hand in the creator economy in many ways. But you can make a lot of money in the creator economy without being famous. If you define fame as having, you know, like TommyInnit with 50 million followers or or Loren Gray, who has 80 million over all of her social, both probably around the same age. Early adults. But I think what we’re seeing and certainly it is definitely there is a very small number of people who command a lot of the attention and a lot of the views and a lot of the money. But we’re seeing more and more of an emergence of a middle class globally.

Where you can actually find an audience, create content, and engage them to the point where you can drive enough revenue to support a decent lifestyle.

And you may end up through luck or skill or a combination of both rocketing to that top 1%. More
brands are figuring out how to work with not just one or two top creators, but 40 or 50 creators that are very, very focused on the sorts of audiences they want. And that’s a really good signal also. I believe that. At Web Summit, AI is everywhere. I really see the potential for top creators, the ones who are famous, to use AI to allow them to do more, be more creative, become superheroes. But for these mid-level and micro emerging creators, it’ll allow them to level up enough that they can build a career out of it.

One of the big problems if you’re a brand working with smaller creators is you need to have more of them to get to the level of awareness and views that you can see with one big creator. So that process of managing 40 or 50 or a hundred different messaging connections with creators can be very difficult. You need to make sure they’re brand safe when they do their integrations. You have to make sure the integrations are good and that they’re on brand, and that there is nothing bad in there. But AI is now giving us the ability to take a look at all the comments that they’ve made on a platform or all of the videos that they’ve done to figure out brand suitability. And AI can quickly take a look at the video that they do and do a quick analysis of it and be able to say in a couple seconds whether this fits what the brand wants.

And so that makes it easier for brands to work at scale with smaller creators. There was another company I’ve seen here, Rembrandt, that showed the ability to do product placement after editing. It’s mostly for video podcasting now. They can put in two cans of Bubbly water and the logo. For the podcasters, it gives them an ability to go and do this without even knowing who the brand is. We are seeing new ways for advertising to be unobtrusive and get in there and make money for creators.

GamesBeat’s Dean Takahashi with creator TommyInnit, who has 50 million followers.

GamesBeat: So you can actually then figure out, say what’s popular and then insert something after the fact into that popular video.

Louderback: Yeah, but it’s not like ad serving. So what you have to do is you have to take the final product, the final video, the final video podcast, and in 24 hours they’ll turn it around and embed the brand into it by doing a post edit of the video.

GamesBeat: Yeah. And then there’s AI with the VTubers, right? The fake people. You can have AI actors as well as just an avatar for a human.

Louderback: Yeah. I want to create a distinction between the VTubers sort of a more classic thing, which is, you know, you well know it’s people who are not broadcasting themselves, their images, their likeness, their whatever.

But they’re putting on a motion caption suit or in some other way they’re turning themselves into an anime star. There was a guy at one of my sessions last year in Singapore who was a shark. He’s a shark and that’s what he does.

Or you look at Code Miko, who now sort of stepped out of her VTuber persona into being a real, as a physical creator as well. And the fully AI realized ones. And I think we’re going to continue to see experiments on the AI creators and influencers. Code Miko was like a puppet. Puppets are great and they can give you the illusion of a connection, which is fine. That can even enable a creator to replicate themselves and interact with a lot of people in cameos or on Only Fans and have a relationship with them.

I just wonder how there are a lot of pitfalls too. So we’ll see what happens. But I don’t think you’re going to be taking work away from creators. I think what you’ll be doing is you’re going to be providing new places for creators to be able to make more money and duplicate themselves and extend what they can do with less people.

It will give you the opportunity for brands and other people to create AI influencers, creators that will work 24 hours a day without getting paid. But we already have things like Duolingo Mascot. That’s a virtual creator. And at VidCon, two years ago, when the mascot showed up, it was one of the most popular talkers at the show. So it’s an extension of something that you already see versus something that is brand new and is going to take over and put creators out of business. I don’t think AI is going to put creators out of business.

GamesBeat: The traditional media looks weaker than ever and ranks are thinning in the area of game journalists, where I am. There are fewer and fewer outlets. It’s giving way to the creators. Perhaps they had not kept up with the times, failing to realize that people want this kind of creator entertainment instead of traditional journalism. Does that ring true?

Jian Shen (foreground) talks about VTubers at the 2023 Web Summit.

Louderback: I think so. But I think it’s a continuation of a trend that you and I have both seen. Remember when we had magazines, like I ran print magazines. You were involved in print magazines. And what happened? The internet came out and suddenly everybody could put out a blog. And we saw blogs pop up. It’s hard to argue that what you’re doing at VentureBeat or what Polygon is doing or some of the others are not gaming journalism. And I would say coming from the PC magazine, it’s hard to argue that Android Authority or Unbox Therapy are doing is not tech journalism.

More and more people are getting their information from TikTok. There are good and bad sources on TikTok. And so there are some great TikTok journalists, including some of the more traditional media. There is good work at the Washington Post on TikTok. It’s very personality driven. And I worry that
when that person walks out the door, the Washington Post TikTok presence will walk out the door too. But that’s worth another conversation. So I’m worried about the state of journalism, but I’m also hopeful that the media companies and that the new journalists are rising, just as we saw with blogs. They’re going to deliver it through some of these newer video platforms. You can tell I’m an optimist.

GamesBeat: There are these comparisons that are interesting to make. Like the New York Times has said that they have three games journalists working for them now. And then GamesBeat has four. And then Call Of Duty probably has like 5,000, if you count the creators. The authenticity of what the creators can deliver on something like Call of Duty is huge compared to one of the New York Times writers coming in and writing the story about Call of Duty. I know who’s going to win that kind of battle.

Louderback: Yeah. It depends on what you want to know about Call of Duty. Right. Give me a scoop on Call of Duty for what it’s going to be in 2025 or 2024. I played Call of Duty for like 10 years. I was a big Call of Duty fan, and now I’m really bad at multiplayer gaming, which my son taught me when he was like 10, and then I could no longer play with him.

But anyway, so tell me, give me the scoops on what’s going to happen with Call of Duty or Zelda or Mario, and that’s a journalist. It can be from wherever. I’m at the end of Tears of the Kingdom and teach me how to build a hovercraft, that’s game journalism. You’re giving me information that helps me understand this thing more. But I can get that. I love getting that from a creator who happens to
just do it and show it.

GamesBeat: That authenticity of showing me that you can play the game, that you know the game, that you can do all these fancy tricks in it and or learn something from watching you. That’s where their credibility comes from. The credibility of the moment I guess.

Louderback: Exactly. Or they’re entertainers. The idea that you entertain by using a canvas to tell stories, like you interviewed TommyInnit yesterday. He is a great games journalist, but he’s also an amazing entertainer. And he’s telling stories using Minecraft as his canvas, just like we saw with Red vs Blue using Halo as their canvas to tell stories. This amazed me — I didn’t realize this — but he and his friends got together and they basically did Hamilton in Minecraft during COVID. And so that’s just a different way of telling a story and using a different canvas rather than doing live action or doing animation. It’s like, well, let’s just do this. So there are different ways to do entertainment too. I don’t think one’s less valid than the other. I think they’re just creative new ways to take a look at the paint brushes that are available.

GamesBeat: Do you think it’s also a generational thing here? Like maybe TommyInnit doesn’t have many of his 50 million followers over 25 years old?

Louderback: Yes. There are probably some that are older, but I will say when he came to VidCon two years ago, it was, and I looked out at the crowd because he had like a couple thousand people watching. And it was a very young crwod. The games are played by young people. I set up Minecraft servers for my son, but I never got deep into Minecraft. I’m still playing Zelda and Mario and I can’t wait to play Baldur’s Gate 3. That’s a sense of who’s playing those games too.

But, the other interesting thing about somebody like TommyInnit or other people there is how do they age out? What’s their life cycle? Going through the YouTube space over the past 15 years or so, I ran a YouTube network and a bunch of other things and covered it and did events for it. It seems like it lasts may be five to seven years. There are some people who rise quickly and fall down. I think TikTok is more of a year or two, but it’s still playing itself out. I don’t know on the game side what it is. I mean, Pewdie Pie
is still out there, but I don’t know what he is doing these days.

I mean, you look at DanTDM. He’s an OG Minecrafter. If you look at some of the OG cast, I’m not even sure what they’re doing now. So there’s a cycle. And so for somebody like TommyInnit, who’s huge now, the question is if he can adapt? And can he attract new generations of teens who are gamers by playing the new games that they’re playing? Is that going to be in virtual worlds? Is it going to be on your Facebook Ray-Bans? I don’t know. But can he do that or does his audience age up with him?

In 10 years, is he talking about the struggles of being a gamer when you’ve got two little kids running around or whatever?

How do you do that as a creator? Another path that we’re seeing for creators get up at a high enough level but never break through, or when their cycle is over, they’ve actually learned so much. Like they’ve been studying at the University of YouTube or Twitch or TikTok for the seven years. That really suits them well to go work for a corporation to help them with their social video platform and their messaging.

GamesBeat: It’s not so different from the celebrity athletes and their career paths.

Louderback: Yeah, right. Exactly. Some go to work at coaching, some go work and do endorsements. That’s a really good analogy. My assistant, one of the people that we brought in who was working with me at VidCon, ended up going to Razer and running their influencer stuff and now just got a job at Sega. And it’s amazing. And she also is a TikToker with 75,000 followers or 80,000. She calls herself a failed TikTokker. But she’s not really, because she learned so much about that, that’s helped her with these other jobs that she’s doing.

Credit: VentureBeat created with DALL-E
Credit: VentureBeat created with DALL-E

GamesBeat: I mentioned this on the panel yesterday. I don’t know how well I articulated it. AI is going to come along, eliminate a lot of jobs — maybe a third of all jobs. And then a lot of people will be out of work. But then who says we have to work? Why don’t we just play and get paid to play games and find different ways to create some new kind of job that is not going to get eliminated by AI?

Louderback: You said it really well, actually, I wrote that down. I do think that there will be disruption. There was disruption when the internet came out and we were in magazines. I mean, think of all the jobs that went away. I think every technology revolution does that.

As a complete aside, if you ever go through Frankfurt, go to the Gutenberg Museum. It’s a short train ride from the airport. Even if you have a layover. Because It’s fascinating to think about the transformation that the movable type did. And it put out all those people out of work eventually who were transcribing by hand the Bible and other things.

And also I think one of the impact of AI. It’s going create a big improvement in productivity in general. And that means the economy of the U.S. spikes when productivity goes up. So the PC era was a big productivity spike. And we saw a lot of that. And then the internet came out. We’ve now been trailing without much productivity increase for the last 10 or 15 years. But if you can get productivity up, that is a rising tide that lifts all boats. Even if you lose all these jobs, there’ll be so much more available.

GamesBeat: I spoke with an Imperial College professor who thinks AI will boost the world’s economy by 10%. That’s many trillions of dollars added to the economy.

Louderback: And if that happens, maybe there is a universal income. There’s a concept that is interesting of a universal income for creators. Why shouldn’t we give a baseline, whether it’s the platforms or other people, for any creator above a certain level. We should just pay them a universal income. And perhaps if you become really good at creating with AI as your copilot, and you turn from a plebe to being good at
it or being a great creator to being a superhero, maybe there’s a universal income that keeps the platforms going and allows you to do it or allows you to play games — get paid to play games. That sounds kind of like rosy, like unicorns and rainbows, but who knows?

GamesBeat: Or help you do your nominal jobs so that you’re vacationing a bit more.

Louderback: Right. Maybe it’s a three-day work week. Or a four day work week. I mean, that would be cool too.

GamesBeat: Well, we can get through all of the bumps along the way.

Louderback: There will be bumps, there will be bumps for sure.

GamesBeat: Seems like you’ve been reinventing yourself along the way too.

Louderback: Yeah. I had invented things like going from print to television to doing online video to running these networks and selling the big media. I sold two companies to big media companies, big TV companies. I like building a position where I can focus on this, but building more of an independent media company.

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