Trendsetters: Influencers are The New TV Stars

As their reach and influence expands, social media stars take on prime-time TV

By Milan Charles

Thursday, 26th of January 2023

The social media star-to-celebrity pipeline is no secret. With thousands, sometimes millions, of followers across their social media platforms, this celebrity stardom should come as no surprise. 

Red carpet invites and fans stopping them in the street for pictures are to be expected given their reach, but many social media stars have now made their way into mainstream media too. 

For the most part, social media content creators have a younger following than traditional celebrities and television stars, so when introducing them to prime-time television shows, not only does it benefit the reach and career of the influencer, but the success and viewership of the TV shows too. Knowing this, over the past few years TV networks have begun to welcome talent outside the traditional celebrity.

Gen Z now watches almost seven times less broadcast television than the generations before them, according to a report from regulator Ofcom. It said 16 to 24-year-olds spend just 53 minutes watching TV each day, a two-thirds decrease in the past 10 years. Understandably, this is not great news for television networks. 

Social media stars tend to have millions of followers who are of the generation that no longer engages with TV in the way we used to – incredibly loyal followers who, more often than not, are prepared to follow the lives of their favourite creators wherever it takes them…even if that means turning on the TV. By utilising some of the most influential online personalities, TV shows are strategically increasing their own audience, viewing ratings and engagement.

YouTube star Nella Rose and her co-host Oobah Butler

Many prime-time shows have therefore welcomed famous social media faces to their line-ups. The most pivotal is YouTuber Joe Sugg who appeared on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2018. Joe was one of the first social media stars to appear on such a show, making quite an impact. Strictly Come Dancing’s social media presence almost doubled, with Sugg’s jive being viewed by over 1.3 million people compared to the 80,000 average. With Sugg alone potentially bringing his 8.2 million YouTube subscribers to the BBC, it is no wonder that the show saw such an increase in viewership. That is no coincidence. 

Joe’s Strictly success led to other shows also casting social media talent, and this has been the case year after year ever since. Strictly Come Dancing, I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here and Dancing on Ice are just three of the leading reality shows that have welcomed social media influencers with open arms. Gogglebox even aired a celebrity special featuring YouTuber KSI. The results speak for themselves.

YouTuber Joe Sugg with dance partner Dianne Buswell

Some networks have taken it a step further and given influencers their own shows altogether. MTV’s latest seasons of Catfish UK sees YouTube star Nella Rose and her co-host Oobah Butler help lovelorn hopefuls determine if they’re being duped by a devious catfish, a perfect fit for Nella who has always expressed her desire to become a TV presenter. Mo Gilligan, a renowned English stand-up comedian, who launched his career through social media skits and shorts on Instagram is now the host of his very own show: The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan. It’s a total triumph and now onto its third season on Channel 4 with celebrity guests, music, sketches, games and prizes.

Seeing the proof in the pudding, Channel 4 has completely transformed its approach to casting and viewership. Why make social media users come to TV when they can bring TV to them? 

Introducing Channel 4.0. In October of 2022, Channel 4 launched its digital-first brand Channel 4.0, a brand new content destination, home to loads of fresh new social formats all rooted in youth culture. The core focus: reaching, engaging and entertaining 13–24-year-olds.

With a dedicated space on YouTube and across social, Channel 4 gives the generation’s top content creators the chance to collaborate and give young audiences a new place to get their daily dose of entertainment. The content features a whole host of established social first creators, from Chunkz, Nella Rose and Alhan Gençay to Spuddz, Mist and Dreya Mac. Channel 4.0 is a platform for the next generation of stars, both in front and behind the camera.

So, it seems that social media content creators are continuing to prove just how impactful their influence is. And with more and more shows and networks utilising their social media stardom, could this mark the beginning of a brand-new era of television altogether?