Elton Castee has 1.2 million followers on Vine, the six-second looping video platform that launched the comedian to Internet stardom.
Three years after it burst onto the scene to create a new breed of short-form comedy and give rise to a group of heartthrob stars, Vine is struggling. Marketers and ad buyers that paid creators to make “sponsored” Vines have soured on the app, which is owned by Twitter,
and are directing dollars toward competitors like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. Video creators frustrated with Vine have followed the ad money, and some of the top “Viners” rarely post anymore as they focus on their other social media accounts.
Video creators, marketers and ad buyers have grown tired of Vine for a confluence of reasons. Some Vine stars felt like the app wasn’t supportive of their work and didn’t implement a sustainable advertising model. Meanwhile, platforms like Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram poured resources into video, and Snapchat started to gain traction with Vine’s young audience. Once the new shiny new object, Vine’s rigid six-second format eventually languished with stars and brands.
A year ago, Vine was regularly ranked as a top five entertainment app in the iOS store, and a top 50 app overall. While hardly cratering, Vine has slipped to landing in the top 20 among photo and video apps, surpassed by Snapchat, Instagram and a number of specialty photo and video apps like Solo Selfie, according to App Annie. Vine is now in the neighborhood of 200th among all apps.
Meanwhile, Vine lacks an ad product like Twitter’s “promoted tweet” or Snapchat’s sponsored geofilters, meaning that if a brand wants Vine as part of an ad campaign, it has to work with individual creators (or make their own Vines and pay to promote them on Twitter). A medley of “influencer” marketing firms, like Twitter-owned Niche, act as the middleman to help brands get their products mentioned in a video.
Darren Lachtman, co-founder of Niche, says the firm has about 31,000 influencers signed on and orchestrated hundreds of brand deals on Vine this year. “We’re still seeing a ton of big brands in this space,” he said.
More than 200 million people watch Vines across the Web every month, according to Twitter, and there are more than 1.5 billion Vine loops every day.
“We thrive on creators doing awesome things on Vine, Periscope, and Twitter,” said Will Stickney, spokesman at Twitter. “It’s one of our top priorities this year to give those creators even better tools across all those products, including Vine, which continues to be a place where creative trends start and explode across the Web.”
Mr. Castee said his ad deals on Vine were “few and far between,” but on Facebook brands are more willing to pay because he has clear data about the age, gender and other attributes on the makeup of his some 260,000-strong audience. In recent days, he has posted ads on Facebook for Celsius energy drink and Natural Light beer. “There is way more potential,” Mr. Castee said. He posts infrequently on Vine now.
Ryan Detert, CEO of influencer marketing firm Influential, says that only about three brands of the hundred or so that the company works with have asked to include Vine in a campaign in the past year. “It’s the low man on the totem pole. It’s the first to be omitted,” Mr. Detert said.
Misha Talavera, co-founder at the social influencer agency NeoReach, said that in the last quarter, while marketing spend for social media “influencers” increased, demand for branded content on Vine has steadily decreased.
Ad buyers, for their part, are mixed on Vine. Bryan Wiener, executive chairman at the social agency 360i, said for the right brand, his clients are still excited to see Vine make it onto media plans. But Rob FitzGerald, U.S. president for the social agency We Are Social, said he hasn’t overseen a brand project for Vine since November 2013.
Some Vine stars charge as much as six figures for a branded Vine, a pricey bet for buyers.
Alexa Tonner, head of partnerships at the digital influencer ad firm Collectively, said a few years ago, there was a “fever pitch” among marketers to work with Vine stars. Now, her team has noted that many Vine influencers—even ones with large audiences—have noticeably slowed down their output.
“There are people with millions of followers who haven’t posted in a month or six months,” Ms. Tonner said. “So brands are not in a hurry to repeat Vine programs.”
According to data from the analytics firm Tubular Labs compiled by BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield, the average “loops” on Vines for the top 10 accounts are down 29% from May 2015 through March of this year.
Some Viners are still happy, like Ben Cahn, who has about 880,000 followers and also works as a creative producer for BuzzFeed.
“There shouldn’t be this sense of entitlement that this app owes you,” he said. According to Mr. Cahn, Vine has done a good job promoting new stars with weekly spotlights in the app or sending creators to the Coachella music festival.
This spring, a group of Vine creators met with Twitter to hash out their issues and request that Vine pay them to post videos on the app. Those talks, first reported by BuzzFeed, have largely stalled, according to people familiar with the matter.
Some video creators are now voting with their feet, like Simone Shepherd, who has over 3 million followers on Vine. Ms. Shepherd posts funny videos about relationships and family and has recently started actively posting content to Facebook, which she says has shown creators a respect that was hard to come by at Vine. Plus, the audience potential is much larger on Facebook, she said.
“At one point, none of us were on Facebook. We thought it was for like Grandma. Now, the majority of us are moving and making more content on Facebook and Facebook Live,” she said.
Indeed, despite the grumblings about Facebook not moving fast enough to protect creators’ content and the fact that its advertising model is a work in progress, several top Vine creators are finding Facebook’s vast video audience hard to ignore.
Ms. Shepherd said that some of her Facebook videos generate between 5 million and 10 million views. She won’t go as far as to say that Vine is dead but “I have definitely heard that a lot” from other Vine creators, she said.