Borkowski Weekly Media Trends 30-04-21

Netflix's TikTok Collaboration | NFT $500k Meme | The PR, Journalist, Celebrity Trifecta

If you want to hear more in-depth analysis of this week’s trends check out episode 7 of our companion podcast (on Spotify too. Listen to the end for Mark Borkowski’s take on Wallpapergate and the death of principle in UK politics:

Netflix goes ‘Renegade’ with New Reality Program

Netflix has announced the latest in a rapidly increasing list of collaborations, this time with TikTok and the teenage influencers resident in its Hype House. The announcement follows on recent partnerships with apps like Headspace which are designed to promote the brand across platforms and apps. It’s a clear-cut and intelligent strategy for the streaming platform, who dominate among streaming services but who, at present, have little presence on peoples’ mobile phones. This ‘social strategy’, if it works, is a good way to bridge a divide where competitors like Amazon and Google—who each produce their own smartphones and other services—already have an advantage.

That is, if people like it.

As a reality TV fan, the show sounds pretty good—the show will reveal "the stories of the most popular personalities on social media as they come into their own, fall in love and tackle the next stage of their lives." Works for me. Of course, TikTok stars are not universally known for their verbal fluency—this is one of the downsides of a medium that encourages communication largely through viral dance and gesture. (I’m already imaging Charli D’Amelio’s poignant floss on learning that Larri Merritt has been plotting with rival influencers at Sway House to siphon off followers with a simultaneously-stream Q&A.) That said, the 126 million TikTok followers between them will no doubt provide enough impressions to give Netflix the cross-promotional clout it wants.

Some subscribers, however, are already not happy about the collab. Subscribers point out that some of these stars have ignominious pasts—earlier this year star influencer Tony Lopez was accused of sexually soliciting one of his underage fans, while the Hype House itself was found to be the epicentre of a Covid outbreak. (This trends writer had the misfortune of walking past the Hype House during a recent visit to L.A. and can confirm that nearby residents were infuriated by the non-stop partying that occurred during both lockdowns.) 10,000 people have signed an online petition to cancel the Hype House, with one inflamed user citing a need to punish Netflix for investing money toward making ‘useless humans famous.’

Fortunately, the ‘usefullness’ of a human life is still a hazily-defined category, varying very much from one person’s perspective to another; I for one consider anything useful that helps me avoid thinking about the potential ravages of vaccine-resistant virus, imminent nuclear standoff, the erosion of workers’ rights globally, climate change, resurgent nationalism, John Lewis wallpaper—which I have no doubt this show will help me to achieve and then some.

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‘Disaster Girl’ meme sells for $500,000 on digital auction

When a family photo taken 16 years ago sells as an NFT for $500k, it might prompt a frenzied dig into your photo library in search for a similar treasure. What makes this image so special is that you’ve probably seen it before.

Owning a one-of-a-kind meme and paying hundreds of thousands (and in some cases millions) is a bit of a head-f*ck but it’s starting to make a bit more sense.

Most smartphone users encounter memes every single day. Every trend, news story, or cultural moment is often driven by them. Memes are engrained into our culture but who’s making money of the viral one’s? In most cases, it isn’t the creator. ‘Likes’ don’t cut it anymore when creativity and artistry are making the social media giants richer.

NFTs might be the only way to create a fair ecosystem for artists and creators… and the victims that become the meme.

Zoë Roth – the person pictured outside the burning house – has lived on the internet for a decade and a half with no compensation. She’s been shared in many forms millions of times, and through this NFT boom she’s been able to “take control over a situation that she has felt powerless over since she was in school” - with a 10% of that half a million.

Owning an original meme will take a bit of time to get used to but it’s creating a fairer way to credit and reward virality that won’t make Tech Giants richer.

The eternal power struggle between celebrities, their PRs and journalists

As newspaper circulations plummet and celebrity Instagram followings soar there has been an developing narrative in recent years that celebrities, abetted by management and PRs, have wrested control of their media narrative from the mighty fourth estate. Clearly they still struggle with privacy in the face of the tabloid media’s incessant flashbulb onslaught, but whenever they put themselves forward for publicity, it tends to be on their own terms, with any unwelcome question, deviation from topic or insolent tone punishable by a walkout, a blacklisting, a spiked interview, a social media takedown or even lawyers threats.

But recently we have seen an emerging pattern of journalists fighting back. Multiple times in recent months interviewers have openly commented on diva behaviour or PR interference in feature profiles. If you want to a positive write-up for your star, you’ve got to play nice, show some respect and cede some control is the underlying message for those in the trade.

We saw another example this week in the form of St Vincent, the mercurial musician (reputed not to be the easiest interviewee) having had her PR spike a piece because of a journalist’s insistence in discussing her father’s incarceration and the politics of US jail sentences. St. Vincent was reluctant, despite having told the Guardian that these topics were inspiration for the album.

Despite notionally having lost the battle, the journalist exacted a measure of revenge by publishing large swathes of the conversation on a personal blog, sparking supportive articles and social media chatter from fellow journos meaning that St Vincent became the latest celebrity not to come out of a difficult interview with reputation entirely intact.

A subsect of this trend also to arrive this week concerns not interviewers but critics. Guardian journalist Hannah J. Davies talked about being targeted for abuse by screen writer Jed Mercurio for a throwaway comment about his mega hit Line of Duty. Mercurio copped criticism for his original Twitter tirade but still doubled down by referring to Davies as a see-you-next-Tuesday in a GQ interview a full year later.

Like the interview strop, responding antagonistically to criticism nearly always makes the celeb in question seem, to at least a section of their audience, churlish and egomaniacal. As it is for Mercurio so it was for Lizzo and Lana Del Ray in similar incidents.

The media might be changing before our eyes, but showing journalists at least enough respect that they don’t feel harassed just for doing their jobs will always be a key part of the publicity game.

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