‘The Medium is the Message’ in the age of web3

Rick Williams
November 28, 2023

This piece is part of our Web3 Growth Playbook series. You can download the full report here.

We can learn a great deal about creators such as Mr Beast and the untapped value and opportunities of NFTs by studying McLuhan’s theory. 

It’s incredible to think that something written almost 60yrs ago, before the invention of the internet, the smartphone and mixed reality could resonate so profoundly today. 

"The medium is the message" is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian communication theorist. It titles the first chapter of his book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man”, first published in 1964, and encapsulates beautifully how technological innovation becomes interwoven in culture.

McLuhan uses the term "message" to signify both content and character. The content of the medium is a message that can be easily grasped, but the character of the medium is another message that is easily overlooked.

Everything Old is New Again

McLuhan’s theory has been gaining new audiences since the bubble burst on the first wave of NFTs, and ‘builders kept on building’ regardless. Nike and many other ‘less well known for now’ networks, have continued to experiment with the ways in which future content ownership might take shape.

For twenty years, social media content has typically been owned by the platform, not the creator. Revenue is sourced through advertising. It is a TV ad model that was dreamt up in the 60’s and still pays handsomely to those who own the distribution networks. 

With the likes of Mr Beast, commanding almost 200M subscribers, the Creator Economy is a more commercial version of the ‘Influencer Economy’...The difference? Creators are beholden only to their subscribers, and not to the household named brands who traditionally paid them.

Mr. Beast is now personally valued at multiple BILLIONS. Why? Because he’s realised that he can endorse his own products to his subscriber base and become a (relatively) overnight dollar printing press.

According to Forbes in November 2022, his annual earnings were estimated to be an astonishing $54 million, including income from ad revenue and sponsorship. In Jan 2022 he launched his 'Feastables' chocolate bar, selling over 1 million bars within 72hrs, with no other marketing other than mentioning them in his YouTube videos. The Wikipedia entry for Feastables is a textbook lesson in digital marketing in the 2020’s, and proves what can be achieved in a short space of time, especially when you consider Mr Beast is only 25 years old. 

NFTs with super powers

Mr Beast is a modern day archetype of McLuhan’s Theory, and likely the last creator using the platform-controlled business model of sponsorship and advertising.

That’s because, despite the headlines, rumours of the demise of NFTs have been greatly exaggerated. Everyone got very attached to the ‘content’ of NFTs and ultimately became very dismissive of them - “That’s just an expensive jpeg!” - but during this ‘crypto winter’ many are starting to work out the ‘character’ of NFTs

One of the obvious implications of content being owned by creators is that it gives them more control over their work and how it can be ‘remixed’. Creators can choose where and how their content is shared, and they can also choose how they want to monetize it. In May 2023 Grimes released software that mimics her voice, offering a 50/50 Royalties split for Commercial Use and the raft of new functionality coming to NFT 2.0 creates some fascinating opportunities:

Creators as Media Platforms

Network driven models give creators a more direct relationship with their fans. As Mr Beast has proven, creators can seamlessly diversify into other products and sell their content directly to fans, without platform intermediaries. There have also been some novel approaches to using NFTs in order to build communities around their work, as we can see from Nike Swoosh, but also in research & intelligence companies such as Water & Music and Folklore

For platforms, the shift to creators owning their own content means that they will have less control over what is shared on their platforms, and more importantly, how it can be reused.

This will likely lead to a decline in the quality and freshness of content on centralised platforms, as creators become more comfortable sharing their content directly with their fans, leading to greater innovation in the social platform space.

Media as Creator Platforms

For consumers, the shift to creators owning their own content is likely to lead to a more diverse and innovative ‘cosy web’. Creators will be free to experiment with new ways of sharing and monetizing their content, leading to new and exciting experiences for users. The rise of independent podcasting has led to a more diverse range of voices and perspectives being represented. The popularity of YouTube has given creators a platform to share their videos with a global audience and to build careers as online entertainers. The growth of Patreon has allowed creators to generate revenue directly from their fans. The development of Web3 technologies is giving creators new ways to own and monetize their content.

I’m excited about how content is evolving media ecology and culture. As technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more changes in the way that content is created, distributed, and consumed. McLuhan proposed that the "content of any medium is always another medium". That’s a fascinating concept when you think about the composable nature of NFTs and smart contracts, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Monthly Bulletin

Sign up for product, growth and GTM development tips for innovators

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.