Getting Views and Recognition: Digital Creators Are Making Their Mark

Nobody knew quite what to call it when it first appeared. The “it” in this case being the content posted by seemingly random people, to platforms ranging from Tumblr to YouTube to personal blogs.

And it wasn’t just the rush of content that was new that came with this democratization of media production. So were many of the genres. First came things like makeup tutorials, product reviews, video game commentary, and unboxing videos, and now we’re seeing formats we’re familiar with like comedy shorts, interviews, and mini documentaries. UGC, short for User Generated Content, eventually became the acronym of choice for this do-it-yourself content initially made by people in their bedrooms or with selfie sticks attached to phones. 

Today, digital content made by an army of millions around the world is a bona fide industry, fuelling billions in economic activity around the world and estimated to employ the full time equivalent of approximately 10,000 to 20,000 creators in Canada. And on the consumption side, time spent viewing video on YouTube has eclipsed time spent on Netflix among US teens for the first time.

For a deeper dive into the latest data on digital creators and audience viewing habits click here


This ecosystem of creators, platforms, tech companies, and marketing and advertising firms is commonly referred to as the Creator Economy, and it’s the theme of the Fall 2023 report Flipping The Screen, appearing in the CMF’s new Perspectives publication. The report offers a data-intensive look at the digital creator economy, examines the explosion of creativity that is digital first content production in Canada, and offers insights from leading academics and industry practitioners in Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia.

If you haven’t actually tried your hand at content creation you might think all it takes is an idea, your device of choice, and an internet connection. The reality of consistently creating content that audiences want to see, comment on, and share, is quite different of course. It’s a highly entrepreneurial activity that takes a self-starter attitude, a lot of discipline, and hours and hours of usually solitary work. “When you’re a digital creator it’s all you. You’re mostly alone. And looking at 8 hours of footage of your face. Then doing a first edit. And doing a second. And then searching for a thumbnail to use”, digital creator Carley Thorne told the crowd at the recently held Digital First Canada Summit at Buffer Festival.

CMF panel at Buffer Fest, from left to right: Florence Girot (CMF Senior Manager, Foresight and Innovation), Carley Thorne, Chris Rizzi and Fred Bastien. Photo credit: Chantale Viens/Buffer Fest

When Thorne couldn’t do live comedy shows due to the pandemic, she started posting her commentary-based videos on YouTube, describing herself on her channel page as “just a girl with lots of opinions.” Those opinions include her take on Prince Harry’s memoir, which also happens to be the most popular video on her channel.

With over 330,000 subscribers and approaching 20 million YouTube views in late 2023,Thorne now does digital content creation and consulting full time. Her clients include CBC, brands, and comedy tours.

Appearing alongside Carley Thorne on the panel was Fred Bastien, a Montreal-based YouTuber for close to 10 years, whose French language content gets 30% of its views from France and Belgium, “in spite of the accent”, he pointed out wryly. With a background in traditional media, he told the audience that when he was working in television his bosses often turned down his pitches. “Now the audience is the judge”, said Bastien. “You can go directly to them, and learn, and then amend things the next time. You can choose your own distribution and monetization too – YouTube, TikTok, newsletters, Patreon, PayPal. The Internet has let us do all of this, and without a middleman.”

To provide support for mid-career digital creators in Canada and help them grow what is essentially their small business, the CMF recently announced its Digital Creators Pilot Program. “The program was designed following consultations with digital content creators, the platforms they post to, and the people who work alongside them”, said Janine Steele, the CMF’s Director of Interactive Digital Media. “And as Canadians now consume 30-50% of their weekly media content from digital creators we want to support great stories wherever Canadian audiences go to find them.”

This new pilot program puts Canada in the company of other countries now paying attention to the rapidly expanding digital creator economy. Screen Australia, the country’s federal government body funding the screen-based industries, is into the tenth year of its Skip Ahead initiative, which aims to help online storytellers with an existing audience on YouTube expand their creative ambitions and production values, and ‘skip ahead’ their careers. Interviewed for the CMF’s Flipping the Screen report in the inaugural edition of Perspectives, Lee Naimo, Screen Australia’s Head of Online, explained that his organization “wants to be responsive and reactive to where creators want to go with their careers. Sometimes that’s away from online platforms, as with the series Deadloch on Amazon Prime”, said Naimo, “and sometimes it’s just to keep building that business out, as with Glitch Productions and their show Meta Runner, which airs on YouTube.”

Recognition from industry funding organizations is one thing. Then there’s the satisfaction creators get from being acknowledged in their everyday lives. “Now feels like the one of the first times it’s not a dirty little secret to be a digital content creator”, pointed out Carley Thorne at the Digital First Canada Summit at Buffer Festival 2023. “I used to lie to Uber drivers when they asked me what I did. Like, ‘I’m a lawyer, ok?’”, she said in a self-mocking tone. “Now, it’s respected.”


Click here for an in-depth look at the Digital Creator Economy in Canada and around the world in Flipping The Screen, in the inaugural edition of the CMF’s Perspectives.

Click here for more information on the CMF’s just launched Digital Creators Pilot Program.

Leora Kornfeld
So far in life, Leora has been a record store clerk, a CBC radio host, a Harvard Business School case writer, a blogger and a crossword puzzle clue. Currently she’s a media and technology consultant, working with clients in the US and Canada.
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