Twitter lost Vine’s audience—and the video stars it created

Four years after acquiring Vine, Twitter is shutting down the app, though it will keep its videos on the web


Twitter tried to save Vine by making it a more lucrative option for creators.
Twitter tried to save Vine by making it a more lucrative option for creators.

San Francisco/New York: Jerome Jarre hasn’t posted on Vine in more than a year. The 26-year-old goofy Frenchman once ruled the six-second looping video platform, where he drew in millions of viewers with clips of him walking up to unsuspecting strangers and saying, “I love you.” But by 2014, he was already doing similar videos on Snapchat, where teens were beginning to spend hours sending each other selfies.

Jarre noticed that Vine, which once had a thriving following, was starting to fade. “We all know the app had been deserted by the audience a long time ago,” Jarre wrote in an e-mail. “The true friends are not those platforms we use. They are the people that follow the journey and enjoy what we create.”

Jarre and other Vine stars have seen for years what Twitter just made official: Vine is dead. Four years after acquiring it, Twitter is shutting down the app, though it will keep its videos on the web. The announcement came a few hours after the company reported third-quarter earnings and said it would cut 9% of its staff. “To all the creators out there — thank you for taking a chance on this app back in the day,” Vine said in a statement.

But many of these creators had long since moved on to bigger—and better-paying—pursuits. Vine peaked in August 2014, when the app was used at least once a month by 3.64% of all Android mobile users in the US, compared with just 0.66% today, according to research firm 7Park Data. So that made Thursday’s mourning an exercise in nostalgia for most, who looked back fondly on the early days of Vine when it was a video canvas ripe for experimentation. Rus Yusupov, a co-creator of Vine, was more regretful than nostalgic: “Don’t sell your company!” he on Thursday.

In 2013, when Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey announced that the company was launching Vine, he said it brought “an entirely new art form to the world.” Dorsey had pushed Dick Costolo, Twitter’s chief executive officer at the time, to buy the startup before the app had even launched. He was right that its form was key: Vine’s six-second constraint led to a special breed of joke that got funnier the more times it looped.

The micro clips were just long enough for a punchline or two, and comedy reigned, as did the kind of teen antics that made parents scratch their heads. Vine’s video-splicing features also led to magic tricks and internet cultural mashups of a Shiba Inu dancing to Toto. And just like on any social media platform, everyday content could take off unexpectedly. Eyebrows are “on fleek” because of Vine. A man said “OK” and launched a thousand remixes. “What are those?” is now a cheeky shoe insult. Rubber ducks moaned 190 million times.

In 2013 and 2014, Vine was hot. Notoriously hard-to-reach teens were spending time there, which meant brands were willing to pay to get their attention. Stars who had grown millions-strong Vine followings were able to start making money off their fame, creating videos that added product placements or marketing hashtags. But as teens started ditching Vine for newer video options on Instagram and Snapchat, advertisers and social media celebrities quickly followed. Without an audience, Vine had little left to offer the stars it helped create.

Luckily for them, social media fame proved to be fluid. Vine comedian Lele Pons has a burgeoning YouTube channel and 9.9 million Instagram followers. Vine heartthrob Nash Grier starred in a straight-to-internet feature film, landed a book deal and then started to focus more on his YouTube channel. Andrew Bachelor, better known as King Bach, went from being the most followed person on Vine to a recurring cast member on Showtime’s House of Lies and MTV’s Wild N’ Out. He has a deal for another series with Adult Swim in the works. A couple years ago, he was posting more than a dozen videos a month on Vine. These days, he spends less time there: He’s posted two videos there all month.

Twitter tried to save Vine by making it a more lucrative option for creators. Early last year, it bought Niche, a platform for connecting creators with brands. It also experimented with longer Vine videos this year that carried pre-roll advertisements. But Chris Gilbert, a social strategist at digital agency Kettle, said Twitter didn’t do enough early on to monetize and prioritize. “It’s frustrating,” he said. “Why didn’t Twitter see this coming?”

Marketers said Vine suffered because its site could be hard to navigate. Vine clips were often downloaded and re-uploaded to YouTube and Facebook. They also said Twitter did little to help it evolve, while Instagram and Snapchat raced to compete with each other with longer videos and disappearing posts. Snapchat and Facebook’s Instagram “built stickers, filters, more and more candy for their audience, which also provides a broader creative canvas for a lot of influencers,” said Tom Buontempo, president at Attention, a social media agency.

Vine stars who have moved on are grateful for what it sparked but don’t see its death as the end of what they do. “It’s like if a group of painters have just lost one of their favorite paintbrushes. Nothing more,” wrote Jarre, who has channeled his social media fame into humanitarian efforts in Latin America and elsewhere. “Vine is dead, yes, but everything that was born from it is very alive.” Bloomberg

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