Everyday creators on TikTok are up in arms that the first raft of recipients of the app’s $1 billion creator fund, aimed at offering developing creators a livelihood, includes David Dobrik.
Dobrik, who has 20.5 million followers on the app, was one of 19 creators announced as recipients of the first tranche of funding made available through the much-hyped financial support program, general applications for which open later this month.
The creator is estimated to be worth $7 million, and made his name and fortune on YouTube, after Vine, which he first uploaded videos to in 2013, shut down.
“Dobrik specifically has really established himself as master of ‘bringing joy’ on YouTube in the past years, and gained a massive following doing so,” says Andreas Schellewald, a researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London, who studies David Dobrik and TikTok. “But the thing is that his content has always remained short-video content, as he initially started on Vine, just packaged into a YouTube montage.
“He’s definitely someone TikTok has an interest keeping on their site,” Schellewald adds. “It’s just a great match for both sides. However, I’m not sure if it communicates the right message to take an established creator like Dobrik and feature him in the context of this creator fund. Many others featured in that list of course too have a big following.”
With a handful of exceptions, the first group of creators announced as recipients of the funding appear to ignore the founding principle of the program. When it was announced on July 23, Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s general manager in the United States, said the cash would be disbursed “to help support ambitious creators who are seeking opportunities to foster a livelihood through their innovative content”.
The fund is open to applications from anyone over the age of 18 on the app, with more than 10,000 followers and more than 10,000 views in the last 30 days.
The 19 creators announced as the first recipients of the money have an average of nine million followers, with a quarter of them in TikTok’s top 100 creators by follower count. They include beatboxer SpencerX and Michael Le, who are both in the 10 most followed accounts on TikTok.
The list of creators – and the decisions made – echo a decision by YouTube to roll out a similar creator funding scheme in 2012, which ended up mostly paying mainstream celebrities and entertainment companies.
“I think a lot of us creators suspected it would turn into money to basically pay the big, already famous and already very financially successful ‘stars’ of TikTok, but it was still quite a surprise to actually see the list,” says Jenny Millenni, a creator with 277,000 followers on the app.
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“When you hear ‘help support’ and ‘who are seeking opportunities’, and ‘a livelihood’, it gives an image that it would be used to help people who are building up their career and presence on the platform, who may actually need the money in order to continue posting on the platform and turn it into a career,” she says. “Not creators who are already well established on the app, with a career, making a very large sum of money doing it and have existing net worths of millions of dollars.”
Millenni is one of a number of creators who have expressed concerns about who has been funded through the program on social media and private chat groups of TikTok creators.
She’s also concerned that the first raft of funded creators was announced before applications were even officially open. “It's pretty discouraging because it had potential to be a pretty cool opportunity for a lot of people, but now it doesn't seem like it's really going to hit the hands of very many due to the fact these huge personalities who are already millionaires are top on the list and picked out before people can even apply,” she says.
“The announcement of these people is pretty much the complete opposite of the type of people they stated it would go to.”
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Schellewald believes it’s a useful strategy for TikTok to highlight its biggest names, and often most interesting educational creators, early on in the fund’s history, but that needs to change in the future. “Going forward there needs to be some kind of transparency in regards to the decision-making process of who gets funded, which I think would fit TikTok’s overall commitment to transparency they’ve thus far shown in regards to their algorithm,” he says.
However, the fund is in its early stages. “This first round of creators that have been announced are mostly well-established influencers,” says Brendan Gahan, partner, and chief social officer at Mekanism, a US creative agency. “They’ve got followings in the millions. Are they creators that need the money? Probably not.” Yet Gahan thinks it’s a smart move.
He believes some of the money may be being used to stop TikTok’s biggest names jumping ship to competing apps, chief among them Instagram Reels. The Wall Street Journal reported big TikTok creators were being offered six figures to jump ship to Reels last month. “They’re facing a battle on multiple fronts with competitors nipping at their heels,” says Gahan. “By investing in top creators they’re securing some of their biggest stars.”