How the Kardashians, Howard Stern, and Tyler, the Creator Are Embracing Owned Media Over Social

1.61 million. 2.28 million. 29.3 million. Those are the follower counts that Howard Stern; Tyler, the Creator; and Kim Kardashian have cultivated on Twitter. Those impressive numbers aren’t surprising: All three have built loyal fanbases that follow their every move, their personalities veritable media empires onto themselves. Their names alone drive major traffic on the Internet, with the media jumping at every chance to insert them into a headline (ahem).

Suffice it to say, they know how to play the media game, and that may be why they’re beginning to move away from the very institutions that facilitated their rise to the top.

On February 18, Lloyd Braun’s Whalerock Industries announced that they had teamed up with Tyler, the Creator; Howard Stern; and the Kardashian family to create “direct-to-consumer digital Media Hubs… through which audiences can connect and interact directly with artists, brands and their content.” In other words, these celebrities want to publish content on a platform that they own, instead of one where they’re just renting space.

So far, details on the hubs are vague. Promise of exclusive and premium content seems to a central selling point, as does even more intimate access to each celebrity’s daily life. The New York Times reports that Kim Kardashian’s hub “is expected to offer photos, video and, perhaps, city guides—where she ate, where she slept—and makeup tutorials.” Tyler, in an interview with Re/code, describes his platform as “basically my brain, but in one place.”

All of these celebrities are brands, and like all brands, they’re being faced with a big marketing decision right now: whether to own their audience or merely rent it, beholden to unpredictable algorithms and unable to directly distribute content to their audience.

Tyler has framed the move as a way to reach his fans more personally, even going so far as to say, “I won’t even have to use Twitter anymore.” Such a statement has to be frightening for a platform like Twitter, which is reliant on big personalities like Tyler for its popularity.

Still, it would be a mistake for Tyler and Whalerock to abandon social media. Having an owned content platform doesn’t mean ignoring social media; you just need to view it differently. Those platforms are key tools for distributing your content and attracting people to a platform that you own.

Khloe Kardashian seems to get this, and offered an appetizing metaphor for the relationship between social media and owned media in an interview with the Times: “I see what we do on social media as the appetizer. This [the Media Hubs] is the whole dinner. Not everything we do can be captured in an Instagram shot.”

For creators and celebrities, there could be a lot to gain in using the kind of owned platforms Whalerock is hoping to create. It’s already been proven that passionate fans will pay out ridiculous sums of money for intimate access to their favorite personalities, and assuming the hubs are executed correctly, these owned platforms will equate to more money, more control, and more flexibility for their owners.

Braun sees these hubs of the future of media, and he makes a pretty convincing argument.

“If all of a sudden there was no media, and you were to start today in 2015, does anyone believe we would have the archaic system that we have?” says Braun in the aforementioned Re/code interview. “The truth of the matter is, there’s a whole generation right now, and it’s Tyler’s, that don’t know any other way of accessing and consuming content than exactly what we’re going to be doing.”

Yet this might all turn into hyperbole if Whalerock and the celebrities don’t put in the work needed to make an owned content platform run correctly. As brands have learned in the past few years, creating standalone media properties is difficult. For the celebrities, these hubs will require a consistent flow of valuable content. For Whalerock, there’s even more to consider when it comes to programming and designing the apps, navigating their celebrity’s egos, and ultimately monetizing the content in a balanced way.

Even if these hubs don’t reach their lofty expectations, they seem to at least be a sign of where digital media may be headed.

“My generation is the Internet,” says Tyler. “That’s all we know… Let’s just cut the middleman out and get straight to the point.”

Image by Stern: Scott Roth/Invision/AP; Kardashian: John Salangsang/BFAnyc.com; Tyler: Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP.

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