What Casey Neistat’s exit means for the influencer community

casey-neistat-cnn.jpgThe announcement of CNN’s $25 million-dollar acquisition of YouTuber Casey Neistat’s video app “Beme” probably leaves you with a whole slew of head-scratching questions. Who is Casey Neistat? What is Beme? How is it possibly worth $25 million to a major news network? Is there going to be a trend in the influencer industry of multi-million dollar exits?

First, let’s address the easy questions. Neistat is a massively popular YouTuber with nearly 6 million subscribers. His content ranges from informational to humorous, social experiments to product reviews, and everything in-between. The top videos on his channel have well over 20 million views. With news of the acquisition, Neistat announced that he would discontinue his daily YouTube Vlog.

Neistat’s video sharing app, Beme, was released in July of 2015. This week, CNN announced plans to purchase Beme for $25 million. While they are technically acquiring the app and its employees, this is a fairly transparent move by CNN to simply acquire Neistat and his millions of dedicated viewers. In fact, they’ve already announced that Beme will be shutting down in January of 2017. Exactly how CNN plans to capitalize on their hefty investment is yet to be determined, and we don’t wish to speculate. It’s clear, however, that Beme is absolutely irrelevant in this move.

When we step back and examine the fact that CNN just plucked an influencer from the creative community with a fat check, we have to wonder whether there’s potential for other personal social media “exits” in the future. If so, Neistat appears to be a Unicorn in the space. But could smaller acquisitions become commonplace after years of proven success for the big names? We watched as Justin Bieber skyrocketed from 12 year-old YouTube performer to one of the biggest names in music history. We saw comedian Bo Burnham go from recording short sets in his childhood bedroom to selling out massive theater’s for Netflix specials. We’re witnessing Jen Selter create a hugely lucrative fitness empire from her 10 million+ Instagram followers.

What’s to say we don’t see that begin to happen on a larger scale but at smaller audience sizes? Brands are quickly recognizing the value of the micro-influencer. Attention is pouring into the space at rapid speed, and it’s clearly not going away any time soon. The question that remains is how an “exit” on a smaller scale might take place. The transition from internet home videos to biggest pop star on the planet would have seemed incomprehensible 20 years ago, but looking back it seems like a logical and natural path. The move from daily vlogger to massive news network acquisition has now been proven as a potential recipe for success. So what’s the exit strategy for a nature photographer with 500,000 loyal followers? Or the chef and food blogger with a multi-channel audience draw in excess of millions? Still to be seen, but it doesn’t feel like a stretch to believe this is more a question of when, not if.