i3 | June 02, 2022

The Creator Economy: Cashing-in with Technology

Filming social video on phone

User-created content, once the domain of online enthusiasts, has grown into a rewarding enterprise with global reach for nearly 20 million U.S. consumers. While self-expression provides the motivation, technology — through hardware, software, and services — provides the means. For many creators their content is just a hobby, but for others it is a full-time job. The enthusiasts have become influencers with a broad audience in a budding content arena known as the creator economy.

CTA’s recent Exploring the Creator Economy research study spotlights this fast-growing genre of content by examining perspectives from creators and audiences alike. What motivates content creators to create and how do they measure success? How is revenue generated? What are the challenges experienced by creators and how do they overcome them? And for audiences, who is consuming what and how often?

The study found that 7% (about 20 million) of U.S. consumers aged 13 and up create and monetize content online, with most pursuing their productions part-time. However, the degree of monetization among creators is largely dependent on the type of content produced. For example, the analysis reveals niche content types such as gaming, music and audio (podcasts) have fewer creators compared to other content types such as writing (blogs) or education — but a larger proportion of creators monetizing full or part time.

Motivation Factors

Full-time creators are more likely than part-time creators to be motivated by purely financial reasons as well as their desire to not pursue a traditional career or job. Yet the study found that making enough money to sustainably create engaging content is the top challenge creators experience. Despite this difficulty, the study found content creation is the main source of income for many full-time creators.

Creators, therefore, often leverage third party services to help promote their content and build their business; including managing subscriptions and ad revenue, licensing content, selling merchandise or digital goods, and employing other monetization methods. Not surprisingly, full-time creators measure success with their tally of brand sponsorships and the number of followers gained.

Part-time creators approach their craft like a hobby, motivated by sharing expertise or building a personal brand. For this reason, audience engagement metrics (e.g., number of views) closely follows personal enjoyment and revenue received as the top ways to measure success. Additionally, “being seen” motivates part-time creators just as much as making money.

Technology is the common denominator among creators. The conventional creative studio is a collection of common devices like smartphones, tablets, computers and TVs. Other accoutrements such as video cameras, microphones, lighting equipment and audio/video editing software are natural additions to the production toolkit of more professionally oriented creators.

Who’s Watching or Listening?

Online user-created content now accounts for 39% of weekly media hours among content consumers in the U.S., according to CTA’s report. The research also found younger audiences tend to dedicate more time to user-created content. For example, teens spend 56% of weekly media hours on user-created content vs. just 22% among consumers aged 55+. Regardless of how much time they spend with creator content, six in ten (59%) of U.S. content consumers report watching more creator content now compared to a few years ago.

Featured Research

Exploring the Creator Economy