- UTA launched a digital talent division in 2006, well ahead of the creator economy boom.
- Now agency chief innovation officer Brent Weinstein is eyeing the metaverse and Web3.
- Weinstein offered his predictions about how Hollywood will capitalize on the new technologies in 2022.
When Brent Weinstein helped to launch UTA’s digital talent division 15 years ago, YouTube was only a year old and the creator economy had yet to blossom into the $100 billion industry that it is today.
But the agency — one of Hollywood’s Big Three firms, boasting clients from Kevin Hart and Timothée Chalamet to Chance the Rapper and showrunner Krista Vernoff — saw the potential in the coming digital boom and was early to sign online talent like Rhett & Link and Emma Chamberlain. UTA’s digital talent group, led by partner Ali Berman, has since evolved to include several hundred clients across platforms, including reigning TikTok queen Charli D’Amelio and her sister Dixie D’Amelio.
The early days of its digital talent business taught the 30-year-old agency “to recognize an opportunity to jump without waiting for anyone to give us a parachute, knowing that there were going to be a lot more questions than answers,” Weinstein told Insider.
It’s a lesson he has been revisiting as Hollywood braces for another wave of disruption thanks to the arrival of Web3, which promises to shake up, once more, how content is financed and distributed.
Weinstein — who was promoted to chief innovation officer in 2018 — spends most of his time preparing UTA to “be ahead of the curve” on new technologies. That means he’s already dreaming up ways that NFTs, cryptocurrencies, and the metaverse can be implemented in entertainment.
“Even the most traditional Hollywood company is not going to ignore the massive winds of change that are going to start blowing through,” he said. “Do I expect the most traditional companies to be leading in this space? Probably not, but I think the smartest of them will take advantage.”
In an interview with Insider, Weinstein shared his perspective on how the creator economy will evolve as it matures, Hollywood’s opportunity amid the blockchain craze, and why talent will benefit from Web3.
Conversation condensed and edited for clarity.
There are many more platforms for digital talent now than when you started working in the space. How do creators manage that? Do they have to be in all places?
It really depends on the creator, their ambition, their audience, and how the creator has thought about scaling their own business. Rhett & Link have built this amazing company, Mythical Entertainment, that’s established real scale. They have well over 100 employees, they have dedicated efforts in live entertainment, in filming and TV, in merchandising. They have a premium fan community that’s doing really well. They’ve published books.
Mythical Entertainment is really a next generation media company. Words like that get thrown around pretty loosely, but this is a company that’s really figured out how YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, paid membership communities, e-commerce, and many more things all come together to create a really fantastic experience for their fans. That’s what is possible, but not every creator is going to go that route, and that’s okay.
What should traditional Hollywood be taking away from the creator economy and its growth over the last year?
One of the big challenges that media companies have had over the years is that they never had a direct relationship with their customer. That really is the entire ethos of the creator economy, that direct connection between creator and fan. That is something that Hollywood has recognized. If they can crack it, it can be game-changing for many traditional media companies.
This year, we saw a lot of announcements in the cryptocurrency and NFT space that felt largely like publicity. What do you predict Hollywood will do to really adopt these new technologies next year?
People are just now starting to wrap their heads around Web3, the metaverse, DAOs [decentralized autonomous organizations], et cetera. We’re going to see a lot of people dipping their toes in the water, a lot of announcements that are more sizzle than steak. But you gotta start somewhere. The speed with which some organizations get to scale and build really valuable properties and institutions is going to be lightning-fast compared to any other period of time where we saw technology create massive changes in our business.
Look at Axie Infinity, [an NFT-based online video game]. The growth they’re experiencing is tremendous. It’s all based on this notion of play-to-earn and creating a community where it is starting to leverage many of the most interesting aspects of Web3 and the metaverse and blockchain technologies. You can imagine how valuable a property like Pokemon would be — it’s an incredibly valuable property as it is — on the blockchain. That’s what Axie Infinity is doing.
What do you think traditional Hollywood companies can do with this technology?
It might start with things like virtual real estate in the metaverse. They could end up licensing intellectual property to platforms like Axie. The way that media companies have leaned into experiences like Fortnite, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
What opportunities do you see for talent to build new businesses on the back of Web3?
Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology have the potential to solve many of the biggest problems that have been plaguing aspects of our business. When that happens, every artist benefits. Live entertainment companies for years have been struggling with how to put a concert up for sale and know that the tickets are going to get into the hands of the fans as opposed to having them immediately swept up by resellers. Blockchain technology has the opportunity to permanently fix that problem. That not only benefits artists who want to know that their fans have an opportunity to show up and see the show, but it also benefits them financially.
Blockchain has the opportunity to radically change the notion of membership communities. When you start layering in NFT and blockchain technology where membership isn’t just this thing I’ve signed up for but it’s also an asset that I own, that gets really exciting.