According to a study commissioned by YouTube, the platform’s creator economy encompassed 425,000 full-time jobs last year and contributed $25 billion to the United States GDP. In light of numbers like those, Twitch‘s CEO is asking a question: How many of those 425,000 people could benefit from a new job classification?
In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Emmett Shear echoed an argument presented by other tech CEOs, including Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi. He proposed a new type of job contract that can serve as a “third option.” Shear argued that the creator profession “is not quite a W-2 job and it’s not quite a contracting job.” He noted that gig workers could put the third option to good use.
Shear didn’t get into detail about what he thinks the new option would look like. It would theoretically provide benefits to creators who, as independent contractors, lack sufficient healthcare and paid leave. In an industry where workers are constantly looking for solutions to burnout, a more flexible employment status could be a lifeline.
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Platforms could provide those coveted benefits. Given how much money creators make for shareholders, the extra expense would be justified. The more interesting question is whether creator benefits could extend as far as a union. Creator coalitions like the YouTubers Union already exist, but this would be something different: An organization with the power to collectively bargain with the likes of YouTube and Twitch.
Many creators who depend on online video platforms would love a say in the operations of those companies. It may sound like a one-sided deal, but Shear thinks the tech giants need help, too. The creator economy has grown fast, and the companies that power the industry must rethink their relationship with people who are still classified as customers.
“One of the fundamental dynamics of the creator economy is that tech companies aren’t used to the level at which creators rely on them for their business,” Shear told Bloomberg. “A rapid change to how a product works isn’t just a matter of ‘This person didn’t get as many views on their video,’ but rather, ‘This person can’t make rent this month.'”
Ironically, if creators ever did unionize, the exec advocating for them now might be one of the first targets for collective bargaining. Twitch’s big changes and controversial decisions have affected hundreds of thousands of livelihoods, highlighting the need for a new employment structure. The third option would be nice, but this is still speculation for now. It will all be moot until U.S. politicians pay attention to what leaders like Khosrowshahi and Shear have to say.