Could Paying Millions of Dollars to Creators Have Saved Vine?

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Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Last week, seemingly overnight, Twitter announced it would be shuttering Vine, the six-second-video app it acquired in 2012. But as it turns out, the app’s downfall was a long time coming, despite Vine’s best attempts to stop it. In the fall of 2015, 18 of the world’s most famous Vine stars met with top Vine representatives in an attempt to find a way to salvage the app. Their plan, as first reported by Mic, was a flat rate of $1.2 million paid to each Viner in exchange for a guaranteed 12 Vines a month. (In its final months, posts from the app’s most followed users all but stopped entirely as Viners moved to platforms like YouTube and Snapchat.) The Viners asked the representatives for “several product changes and [to] open up a more direct line of communication,” Mic also reports. Vine didn’t bite. “At that point, we knew Vine was dead,” one Vine star said at the meeting, according to Mic.

Now, a year later, the app is actually dead. But the question is whether or not paying out those 18 (three more stars were later added, bringing the group total to 21) creators would have paid off for Vine in the long run or whether it would have just been a multimillion-dollar bath for an app that was beyond repair. If each person at that meeting made a dozen Vines per month (that’s three per week), that only translates to a little over 3,000 Vines a year, a tiny number when you consider the amount of content being generated on other platforms — YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook Live — where content, whether through monetized ads or direct payment from the platforms themselves, is already heavily and more conveniently incentivized. (Facebook paid Jon Paul Piques, a member of the group of 21 Vine stars, a reported $116,000 by Facebook to record five Facebook Live videos between July and September of this year.)

Sure, these were Vine’s power players with millions of followers and billions of views collectively. There’s no question, had they continued to post content regularly, people, lots of them, would have watched. But Vine also had a problem with getting everyday users, the ones not angling for million-dollar payouts and social-media careers. Last week, I talked to several teens to get a temperature read on Vine’s sudden shutdown. Every single person I spoke with told me they had given up on creating their own Vines (if they ever had at all). Even with those guaranteed Vines from the app’s stars, a huge part of what made Vine great was the organic content from everyday people. (Peaches Monroee’s “Eyebrows on Fleek.” The kid with plastic spoons a.k.a. “hater blockers” on his face. “What are thooooose?!”) Silly, incredible, content with a high return value — loops and user engagement — that cost Vine nothing to create. Without that, it’s not likely the app would have made it anyway, 21 committed stars or not.

Then there was Vine’s fame problem. Nobody who got famous on Vine started out saying, “I’d like to be Vine famous! That’s the dream!No. They wanted to become famous famous. Mainstream famous or, at the very least, it’s 2016 cousin, YouTube famous. (YouTube’s monetization system makes it a much more lucrative platform for creators than Vine ever was.) Instead of being the objective, Vine stardom was just a fulcrum for that larger fame. Not to mention, platforms like YouTube and Instagram and, more recently, Snapchat were always bigger and more established than Vine was, even at its peak in 2013. If you could succeed on those platforms, there really wasn’t a reason to keep using Vine.

For many former Viners, this is exactly what happened. Logan Paul has major brand deals, a movie with YouTube Red, and millions of followers across other social platforms. Nash Grier and Cameron Dallas co-starred in their own movie last year. Andrew Bachelor was on The Mindy Project and in that terrible Zac Efron EDM movie We Are Your Friends. (I won’t hold it against you, Andrew.) Vine’s elite outgrew the app, and paying them to stick around back in 2015 wouldn’t have meant they’d stop pursuing careers off the app as well. Instead, today, Vine would still likely be dead and Twitter would be $25 million poorer.