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Are Celebrity Apps the Future of A la Carte Content?

Earlier in September, Kylie Jenner (of the Kardashian reality-TV dynasty) and her three sisters announced the release of four iPhone-exclusive apps available on the iTunes store. Touted as being all-access, straight-from-the-celebrity sources into all things Kardashian or Jenner, the apps were part of a download frenzy: more than 890K people signed up for the four sites in the first 24 hours. But it was the app featuring the youngest of the clan, eighteen-year-old Kylie, that shot up to the number 1 spot with 74% of the Kardashian download share (McAlone, Nathan. “Kardashian and Jenner apps are already on pace to make an insane $32 million per year.” Business Insider). And it’s a feat that’s garnered much attention – mostly from surprised and perplexed non-millenials… Myself included.

Ok, so my surprise doesn’t stem from naiveté. Try as I might, I have not managed to live through this reality-TV era without hearing more than I’d like to on the topic of “Kardashian.” However, I had no idea of the sheer power of Kylie’s celebrity. The launch of her app and its initial success offer up lots to consider: from the influence of celebrity culture on society to the incredible appetite of the millennial audience to celebrities turning into their own broadcasters to take control of their "stories" to the growing trend towards monetizing the mobile market.

Clearly, we are living in monumental times.

Question: Just how powerful is this now-18-year-old whose claim to fame is her regular appearance on a wildly popular reality show? The same teen who has an audience of over 38.9M Instagram followers. The same teen who recently had the relatable experience of getting a humble $400 000 worth in gifts for her 18th birthday. The very young lady whose fan base started the most bizarre viral selfie trend to date in an attempt to mimic her allegedly-super-sought-after pouty lips via the #kyliejennerchallenge (I’ve intentionally not included any links on this one).

Answer: mega powerful. (This Wired article even called Kylie the Celebrity of the Future).

While I can easily launch into a now-cliché tirade on the problems with new cult of celebrity and lament the decline of society along with the priorities that are of significance to the betterment of the human population…. This is a blog that aims to explore the intersection of digital and storytelling.

So what’s the story here?

Keeping up the Kardashians launched on E Network in 2007, introducing audiences to a lesser-known but super rich family. Audiences got a sneak-peek into the lives of this unashamedly indulgent family and they loved it. While eldest sister Kim was the reigning queen of social media and both a media darling and bashing target for a long time, her younger sisters were clearly watching her evolution and taking (either conscious or subconscious) note. Kylie and her fan base are millennials- the first generation to have never known a world without reality-TV and to have grown up in a world where social media is deeply rooted. Like her fans, she loves social media and sharing details of her lives. Unlike her fans, she lives a charmed life that makes her an aspirational (and now influential) figure. As of 2013, Kylie was making $5,000 per episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians and $3,000 per tweet. She has an estimated $5M net worth (Lippe, Jeryl. “The Kardashian-Jenner Clan Has a Net Worth of Over $300 Million! — Here's the Breakdown of Who's Making What.” Life&Style Weekly). Kylie also models, is a brand ambassador for skin product line Nip + Fab, has created a clothing line for PacSun and launched her own business: Kylie Hair Kouture (Lawrence, Rebecca. “Kylie Jenner is the most influential member of the Kardashian family, study finds.” entertainmentwise).

So… of course they want to peek into her “diary”. Only she’s keeping a firm hold on both the key and the pen. The apps offer a mix of free and paid content, free to download with a subscription fee of $2.99 monthly. The Kardashian and Jenner apps include personal diaries, live streaming video by the celebrities, beauty tutorials, workout tips, and special access to events and giveaways. The sisters have all said they want to create a positive space to communicate with fans. Of course, they have experienced all sorts of social media trolling. (Griffith, Erin. “The new Kardashian apps are a big hit.” Fortune Magazine). It’s certainly noble that the clan wish to control the story more but the question remains- are audiences more interested in the details of their lives when the content is presented as tabloid fodder vs earnest fact?

What about the quality of the content? Kylie is already known for her beauty tutorials and fashion icon status. I'd imagine more bite size content for a generation who consumes this way. Will this indeed create the “deeper connection” with fans that they hope they will create? We will see. As we move away from traditional cable packages and towards direct-to-consumer a la carte content, these apps appear to be part of the future.

And does the timing of these apps have anything to do with the fact that Instagram started rolling sponsored ads into our formerly self-curated pic feeds? Stats tell us that users are turned off by this new development. As the social media tool that skyrocketed to popularity for its authentic experience, wouldn’t this be the perfect time to offer even more ‘authentic’ exclusive Kardashian content via one app, instead of scrolling through different ad-filled social media feeds to get there? (Rogers, Stewart. “More than 50% of Instagram’s biggest fans hate ad increase.” Venture Beat).

Finally, once upon a time, apps were pitched, developed, and found market success not unlike any new product or service – they had to address a problem first. In my opinion, the evolution of the cult of internet celebrity has changed this game, too. With this new breed of celebrity apps, the main ‘problem’ is creator-centric and I hazard to say selfish: wanting to control the content. Certainly, celebrities can ‘claim’ that they are tackling the ‘problem’ that consists of their fans hunger for more access and they’d certainly have a case. But I’d argue there certainly isn’t a problem of enough celebrity content out there. Could this not represent some sort of celebrity social media tipping point- where the creator’s needs are met first by simultaneously convincing the user that he/she needs “more”?

Oh, and with her role model status, is it wrong to hope that Kylie considers promoting or pursuing higher education (or starting her own humanitarian or charitable cause at the very least), somewhere in her evolution? Perhaps we need that more urgently than another makeup how-to.... Maybe?

But in the meantime, you needed fret because you can totally tour her new mansion.

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