I always thought the way Time Warner spun off its publishing arm, Time Inc., in 2014 smacked of something like what Eskimos supposedly did to their elderly: stick ’em on an ice floe and shove ’em out to sea to starve, freeze or drown.
The spin-off was part of Jeff Bewkes’ relentless deconstruction of the media empire compiled by his predecessors, and was designed to rid the parent company of Time Inc.’s old-media drag on profits. That Bewkes didn’t even rename Time Warner minus Time (Warner Communications, anyone?) was a final insult to the proud old brands stuck on that digitally driven iceberg.
After the spinoff, Time Inc. trudged through a string of layoffs, downsizing and other initiatives, trying to evolve into a media company for the digital future instead of the print past. Time Inc. still has its print outlets, including its namesake, plus Sports Illustrated, People, In Style, Entertainment Weekly and Essence, among others. And it still has plenty of challenges making those publications consistently profitable.
But Time Inc. also has begun to devise some new(-media) tricks, including Instant, the year-old digital-only news and video site.
This week, Instant released its New Fame List, several categories of what it judges the most important social-media influencers out there, coming just in time for VidCon, the mammoth gathering of all things social-media influencer at the Anaheim Convention Center.
The New Fame List features plenty of prominent, long-time online stars, including Hannah Hart, Connor Franta, Lilly Singh, Casey Neistat, King Bach, Logan Paul and Rhett & Link, who all have millions or even tens of millions of followers across YouTube and other social-media platforms.
But interestingly, the list also contains a string of up-and-comers, “Instant rising stars” on new platforms such as Musical.ly (Carson Lueders, for instance), as well as quite a number of people of color, and transgender notables such as Gigi Gorgeous and the lesser known Kat Blaque. In some ways, it does a far better job capturing the bewildering diversity of the influencer universe than many other such lists focused strictly on who has the most followers/subscribers.
And that was part of the point of the list, which was developed using a methodology developed by MVPindex, a Dallas-based company that tracks and ranks influencers in sports and entertainment, said Chris Jacob, Instant’s director of brand marketing.
The list is an attempt to reconsider and redefine “our traditional idea of ‘fame'” and how social media have reconfigured influence on culture, said Jacob.
To be sure, some of the notables have reach far beyond their social platforms. Hart and Singh both had best-selling books in the past year, and Issa Rae (“Insecure”) and Colleen Ballinger (“Miranda Sings”) both had crossover TV hits. Gorgeous’s transition to female was charted in a highly regarded documentary that debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
It even includes three male makeup influencers – Jeffree Star, Manny MUA and Patrick Starr – who all made the list’s “Lookers” segment. MUA this year became the first male brand ambassador for Maybelline.
Will Lee, a former colleague of mine who is Time Inc. group digital director for entertainment, sports and style, said the list spotlights “true stars who have created their own business empires, social media movements and transformed what it means to be famous in 2017.”
But as Lee acknowledged, the list also is about trying to establish Instant “as a media authority. We’re not treating this as a space that’s foreign to us. With these creators, we’re really redefining what traditional fame will look like. When you think about (the influence of) Logan Paul, it’s not necessarily for the following but the actual talent.”
It also means adding those Musical.ly stars, who are turning into major players with significant audiences that advertisers want to reach. It doesn’t include any Snapchat stars, in part because of that platform’s disinterest in generating the kinds of analytics that advertisers can use when working with influencers. Its focus has instead been on effecting entertaining, augmented-reality-driven conversations between people who mostly know each other.
The social-media notables tabbed in the selection process are also considered most likely to continue to be influential for some time to come, a not-incidental issue in a business where influencers float up out of nowhere and can disappear with a click of an account closure.
Continuing to matter continues to be a challenge for more than just the influencers. Lee has been in the digital video space a long time, going back more than a decade to when Harvey Levin hired him as TMZ’s New York bureau chief.
“The way I look at it, we are coming from a (specific) editorial standpoint at Time Inc.,” Lee said. “The entire organization is focused on growth, in every platform and format. The second part of what we’re doing is (creating) new storytelling on new platforms to grow new audiences. That’s where the New Fame List and Instant fit in. They’re important not just for empirical growth, but also how we speak to, message to the larger world that we’re no longer simply a magazine company.”
It will likely take longer and more than an Instant to transform that public perception. But at the very least, Time Inc. can suggest that it’s paddling the ice floe back to shore, with some reasonable chance of surviving the climate change all around the industry.
THE NEW FAME LIST:
- Entertainers – Logan Paul, Rhett & Link, Miranda Sings, King Bach, Liza Koshy / Emerging Entertainers: David Dobrik, Juanpa Zurita
- Visionaries – Lilly Singh, Derek Muller/Veritasium, Hannah Hart, Gigi Gorgeous, Connor Franta / Emerging Visionaries: Kat Blaque, Josh Sundquist
- Real Deals – Issa Rae, Joey Graceffa, Todrick Hall, Lele Pons, Casey Neistat / Emerging Real Deals: Why Don’t We, Carson Lueders
Trend Setters – Rudy Mancuso, Teala Dunn, Jojo Siwa, Swoozie, Loren Gray / Emerging Trend Setters: Renny, Ari Fitz
- Lookers – Jeffree Star, Manny MUA, Kandee Johnson, Nikkie Tutorials, Patrick Starrr /Emerging Lookers: Jake Warden, Morgan Hanberry
- Sports Social Stars – Presented by Sports Illustrated: Alex Morgan (Soccer), Marquette King (Football), Amanda Nunes (UFC), Paul Bissonnette (Hockey), Jason Kipnis (Baseball), Joel Embiid (Basketball), Victoria Azarenza (Tennis)