The media and entertainment industry is experiencing massive change by way of decentralization, or the shifting of power from a few large companies to niche platforms and content creators. The explosion of streaming services and social media platforms is just the first wave of decentralization. In this wave, individuals and companies are creating and monetizing content in new ways. With more creative power in the hands of everyday people, influencers and producers, content creation has become an accessible, generational expression of art that millions participate in every year.

But while decentralization has tremendous power, it also comes with its share of pain points. One of the biggest challenges has been recognizing the need for technology like AI. The simple truth is that the growing rate of content creation and distribution far exceeds what any human can feasibly process. AI is a North Star that can guide us through an endless sea of content and analyze it in a humanlike fashion. AI is already the underpinning technology for viewer recommendations and user experience; it’s time that behavior extends across the ecosystem to brand support of creators. 

For brands specifically, navigating a decentralized entertainment landscape can be overwhelming. How do you decide where to invest marketing dollars in a world of content options, cross-pollination, exclusivity and waning viewer attention? Below, we’ll explore how traditional film, streaming and social media are changing the rules of content creation and distribution — and how brands can find loyal and engaged audiences. 

The Roma Effect: Changes In Film Production And Distribution

Covid-19 has forced the film industry to reimagine many aspects of traditional production and distribution, but it’s not all bad news: A lot of these changes afford brands more monetization and integration opportunities. One of the biggest distribution shifts is the transition away from movie theaters and toward limited theatrical runs or direct-to-streaming releases. This method has proven successful (Trolls World Tour was released online on the same day as in theaters and made close to $100 million), setting the stage for a future where streaming services will overtake traditional distribution methods.

Decentralization has also enabled smaller filmmakers to gain international exposure without the backing of large production companies. Last year, for example, Netflix acquired the distribution rights to Roma, an independent film with a low production budget. It went on to receive 10 Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture. Similarly, Manchester by the Sea had a meager budget and went on to receive six nominations and 2 wins, including one for Best Picture.

For brands, there are plenty of opportunities to invest early in a decentralized film landscape, whether it’s through product placement, co-marketing initiatives or more traditional methods of advertising. Whatever route a brand chooses, using AI to vet the opportunity is a crucial step for ensuring that the brand and film are a genuine fit for one another. With audiences more discerning than ever, brands need to steer clear of integration opportunities that are deemed forced or opportunistic. When done correctly, brands and productions can form a symbiotic relationship: productions are allocated more money to use in the creative process while the brand has a shot at getting exposure with a large, relevant audience. 

The Emergence Of Niche Platforms

Streaming has revolutionized our access to and consumption of TV and film and, in many ways, acted as the impetus for decentralization. But the streaming wars are far from over. While generalists like Netflix and Hulu will continue to provide a wealth of short- and long-form content for consumers, we’ll see an increased investment in niche experts that can master a specific genre. These platforms — like Crunchyroll for anime and Shudder for horror — offer more targeted opportunities for brand involvement as well. 

Livestreaming has bolstered the popularity of these niches with more ways to interact with a particular genre of content. These livestreams capitalize on the content type — like iFit or Peloton in the fitness space, for example — but can also offer a way to replicate live concerts and comedy shows in a socially distant world. Spotify and Twitch have already embraced this model, signaling a shift toward virtual events where consumers can remotely watch brand-sponsored concerts with a ticket fee or for free.

For brands, livestreaming and niche platforms offer great advertising opportunities thanks to hyper-relevant audiences. A more focused audience means more eyes on branded integrations and advertisements. Whether you’re a clothing brand looking to sponsor a specific fitness instructor or a brand looking to advertise against a specific livestream, you have the advantage of a truly engaged, targeted audience.

User-Generated Content For The Win 

Traditional social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube are ideal examples of decentralization due to the monetization opportunities afforded by user-generated content. These spaces have become dominated by an array of influencers with followings of all sizes, creating seemingly endless opportunities for brands to participate. And with the emergence of new platforms and content types like TikTok and YouTube Live, it’s even easier for anyone to achieve relevance or virality, regardless of the size of their following. The amount of content available in the overall social media ecosystem is exponentially growing, creating a confusing yet fruitful landscape for brands.

In order for brands to appropriately prioritize the content that will generate the most ROI, AI is nonnegotiable. It’s the only compass brands can use to guide them through a trove of content and creators. By taking in massive amounts of structured and unstructured data — follower count, authentic engagement, type of content, aesthetics, consistency, and more — AI can make a recommendation that serves any brand’s goals. AI couches these goals in guaranteed ROI and success metrics, arming brands with the confidence to put their energy into the creative process with influencers, allowing for more effective partnerships in the future.

Decentralization will continue to break down the barriers between content creation and consumption, allowing for more creation and innovation from film, streaming platforms and social media. These innovations will open the door for new monetization opportunities for brands, while still providing meaningful moments for audiences along the way.


By Ricky Ray Butler, CEO, BEN. This piece was originally published in Forbes here.