Rise Of Celebrity Engagement Platforms
These platforms are today creating a personalized two-way communication between fans and celebrities
Fandom is a universal phenomenon that has existed for many decades. However, up until a decade ago, the only way audiences got to know their favourite celebrities in their field of work was through television and newspaper interviews. This phenomenon changed with the rise of social media through which celebrities started reaching out to their fans directly and sharing their thoughts and endeavors.
Taking this interaction one notch up are the celebrity engagement platforms such as GoNuts, TrueFan, TRING, Celebfe and a few others that are trying to bridge the gap further between a fan and a celebrity, and also offering new monetization opportunities. “Celebrities are often treated like demigods, because of the roles they play on the Silver Screen and the larger-than-life image that is created of them. This is true across all genres. However, this fandom was only one-way communication with just ‘ followers’ and no scope for personalization or engagement with their favorite celebrity,” said Apoorva Ranjan Sharma, cofounder, Venture Catalysts and 9 Unicorns, a fund that has invested in GoNuts.
A new phenomenon in India, celebrity engagement apps have already reached a maturity level in the UK and the US markets with more personalized features such as giving an urgent/quick delivery option at a higher cost.
How Pandemic Paved the Way
Celebrity engagement platforms witnessed a rise when the pandemic set in and the entertainment industry faced a major downfall with work getting hampered at a large scale. “There was a sudden interest in the revenue model that these apps brought forward to entertainers such as actors, dancers, comedians, DJs, emcees, singers and also gave them a pathway to stay connected with the audiences and in the limelight as well. With personal touch came the opportunity to personalize greetings for occasions and allowing the fans and their loved ones to gift each other a special wish like no other,” said Husain Habib, a celebrity engagement expert. He also added that this adds value and high engagement as well among the users when it is posted and reposted on social media.
The celebrity-fan engagement market in India seems to have a huge growth potential today. “As cinema halls shut down, sports tournaments got delayed, and offline events took a beating, people missed out on engaging with their favorite celebs in the usual ways. But as these interactions moved online, the upside was that they became a lot more intimate. We have seen a major trend towards clients engaging with A-list names to create more personalized experiences for their audience, from motivational video calls for teams to more in-depth conversations on social media, live sessions, etc.," said Shreya Bhardwaj Pilani, senior director of The Outstanding Speakers’ Bureau, a platform for global experts and thought leaders.
These celebrity engagement apps have also opened doors for brands to participate and directly collaborate with influencers of their preference. “Previously the dependence for brands was more on television, outdoor advertising, print, radio. Now you have boomerangs and reels to flaunt your product and that too from the word of mouth of the celeb itself or an indirect promotional activity influencing others to use the brand too,” said Habib.
These platforms offer a completely new revenue generation stream for artists and influencers and a platform for brands to use their services for endorsements and promotions. “In a connected world, the celebrities have realized that they need to be closer to their fans. During the pandemic, more and more brands partnered with celebrities from across different walks of life to be able to market their products and it is working well. The growth of D2C brands is also spurring the growth of platforms like GoNuts,” said Sharma of Venture Catalysts and 9 Unicorns.
The Business Models
Most of these platforms have similar business models with each of their own unique features.
Here are the business models of three celebrity engagement platforms:
GoNuts offers an aggregator platform that allows consumers to book personalized video messages from celebrities, through the website and app. Around 80 per cent of celebrities on the platform are exclusive to the startup, including Jonty Rhodes, Shankar Mahadevan and Alka Yagnik.
Additionally, GoNuts for Business, which was launched recently, is focused on small and medium enterprises that leverage the celebrities on the platform for marketing to its stakeholders. On the HR front, through its celebrities, the startup aims to revolutionize how companies talk to its employees and other key stakeholders and has worked with companies such as Classplus, Wakefit, Cadilla Pharmaceuticals, Oncostem Diagnostics, Zydus, Bulbul in helping them connect to their customer base using celebrities.
“As of now, we are focusing on one use-case and establishing a clear demand pattern in the coming months, so, the revenue stream is from commissions earned out of every video shoutout sold. Over time, once the pipe opens up, the opportunities are endless,” Vinamra Pandiya, founder, Gonuts. The startup so far has 1,000-plus celebrities on the platform. The startup was launched in 2020 and has grown almost 50 times since then. It claims to have crossed $1 million ARR and aims to do over $5 million by the end of FY 2021-22.
TRING is a tech-enabled celebrity engagement platform where fans get to request their favorite celebrities to send a personalized video shoutout, direct message on Instagram or live video call to them. Fans visit the TRING website, select their preferred celebrity’s profile from the list of over 7,000-plus celebrities, write the message and complete the booking (various payment options provided).
“Majority of our orders are processed as quickly as within 24 hours, unless in the rare event that the celebrity is unavailable due to travel or health issues. In that case, the payment is refunded completely. Interestingly, it is not just fans who utilize the services of the platform but a plethora of corporates, MSMEs and startups have also leveraged the celebrity engagement services for driving product efficacy, brand saliency, etc.,” said Akshay Saini, CEO and cofounder, TRING.
Launched in 2020, the startup has so far onboarded over 7,000 celebrities (see image above) across genres such as television, movie stars, sports personalities, chefs, authors, models, singers, international stars and influencers. It currently has over 500,000 users and claims to see an increasing share of orders from tier II and tier III cities. It also says that its inquiries for business/brand orders have grown 20 times in the past three months for requirements such as celebrity endorsement, brand promotion, etc., and almost 75 per cent of these business/brand order inquiries are from smaller towns.
The startup enables fans to get personalized video messages from their favorite celebrities. Fans sign up and play a quiz. The winners pay platform fees to get their video messages.
The platform has four celebrities onboarded currently including Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor, Ranveer Singh and Tiger Shroff. “We are in talks with many more celebrities. Around 60 per cent of our audience is from tier II and tier III cities. Our fans come from 3,100 cities and towns across the country and cover roughly 15 per cent PIN codes,” said Nimish Goel, co-founder and CEO, TrueFan.
The startup has over 1 million app downloads so far. “I believe any product, driven by technology, is going to soar in this decade. Secondly, this is the perfect blend of gamification meets media meets content. Thirdly, the simplicity of the idea allows the product to seep through the wide, Indian user-base. For me, it is ideas like these that will really stay the course," said Ronnie Screwvala, co-founder, upGrad, and a key investor in TrueFan, while talking about his investment in TrueFan.
Relevance In The Era Of Social Media And Potential
Experts believe that celebrity engagement platforms are enabling two-way communication between fans and celebrities. “While social media has acted as a tool for celebrities to engage with their fans, it is not the same for the fans as celebrities hardly respond. Direct messages on Insta and video call interactions from their favorite celebrities are often ignored. So overall, social media has become more of a broadcast platform but with celebrity engagement platforms, fans and celebrities can interact directly,” said Sharma.
Additionally, what was conceptualized as an alternate revenue medium, has now grown on to become a key revenue generating pipeline for many celebrities, claims Atul Kasbekar, celebrity and fashion photographer, film producer and an investor in TRING. "It is also a great platform for fans to engage with celebrities and for brands and businesses to leverage celebrities through such platforms. It was also boosted by the availability (and purchase) of lower priced smartphones and much cheaper data plans that allowed fans from even the smaller towns and villages personalized access to their favorite celebs for the first time," said Kasbekar.
While following superstars on social media is a norm today, it doesn’t give fans individual attention. This is where celebrity engagement platforms come into play. “We help facilitate deeper one-on-one engagement with celebrities. Celebrities are also able to effectively build a community of their true fans,” said TrueFan’s Goel.
“The pandemic has created a surge in digital consumption and changed how brands work with influencers. Not only is it redefining existing industry trends, but it also presents new challenges and opportunities for influencer partnerships,” concludes GoNuts’ Pandiya.
Shanthi specializes in writing sector-specific trends, interviews and startup profiles. She has worked as a feature writer for over a decade in several print and digital media companies. She is also a mom who looks forward to playing a game of cards with her tween daughter every evening after work.