“In the beginning, creators weren’t respected at all,” says YouTuber DeStorm Power. “We were actually looked at as weirdos. You put something on YouTube, and you’re a weirdo.” Today, Power is an Emmy-nominated creator who has more than 2 million subscribers on YouTube. He recently helped co-found a new video on demand platform specifically for influencer content called The Zeus Network that he and his co-founders hope will rival the likes of Netflix.
Zeus was developed with a creator-first mindset and a focus on premium content — and a substantial one. It’s a joint effort between reality TV producer Lemuel Plummer and influencers Power, King Bach, and Amanda Cerny. The package it offers isn’t just an easy bundle of content from some of today’s biggest influencers. It may well be the future of how fans consume that content.
The subscription-based service offers a variety of series, including talk shows, fitness, scripted, and comedy, for a monthly subscription of $3.99. There’s the exclusive second season of Power’s Emmy-nominated series, Caught — a musical drama akin to R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet — as well as Life with Lil Tay, a docuseries about the troubled young YouTube star. Bach’s Your Best Life, a show about exploring the “private lives and spaces of some of the most famous and wealthy people in America,” pulls in celebrity names like Snoop Dogg. Cerny’s show is essentially focused on at-home dance instruction, in which a professional walks her through moves step by step. Viewers are then encouraged to record their own moves in a video and post them online.
Other original series have a spot on Zeus as well. Ice Cream is a Taken spoof, in which two girls are kidnapped by their ride-share driver. Lab Ratz is about three broken men who agree to have experiments performed on them for money. Reality show Pretty Girls Lit focuses on the adventures of four 20-something women, from jumping on trampolines in their swimsuits to fishing an orange out of a tree to smacking each other with dildos. According to the site, its creators reach a combined global audience of more than 100 million.
According to Plummer, Zeus provides a way for many creators to monetize and distribute their content in one place. “For us, our whole philosophy was [that] we want to greenlight people, not shows,” he says, “and take away from implementing the traditional development process and giving creators total creative freedom and control over their content — but continuing to produce it in a more serialized, series-based, premium way.”
In the same vein as new platforms like IGTV, Zeus is approaching its business with a creator-first mindset. Power says that creators have never had a platform they’ve owned, but rather, they’ve flocked to whatever was available. “We always worked with platforms, helped blow up platforms, and make those platforms millions and millions of dollars,” he says, “as opposed to just being something by the creators for the creators.”
He points to Vine, for example, the much-loved, now-defunct app that allowed users to post comedy in six-second bursts. “The reason Vine is not around anymore is because we, on our end, decided to leave Vine.” He cites a lack of creative control and platform support as reasons why many creators left; they felt they had no relationship to Vine’s higher-ups. “[Zeus] is the total opposite of that because we are the owners. We have the power to be in those seats and in those positions. We know how it feels to be, as a creator. And we also understand the business side and the administration side.”
But the platform’s launch on July 13th came with problems. Over the course of several days, I ran into a variety of issues. When I tried to reset my password, the email that hit my inbox moments later was a generic test message suggesting this particular service wasn’t actually set up. Videos, like the first episode of King Bach’s show Your Best Life, brought up a 404 error, or worse, basic errors, like misspelling Snoop Dogg’s name or displaying incorrect timestamps for show durations.
Plummer concedes that the launch did had its share of errors, but he adds that some of these issues “were kind of out of our control” — especially when it came to the Zeus app, which he says was released earlier than it should have been. Power echoed the sentiment, adding that even major platforms like Instagram and Netflix sometimes run into trouble. “In the beginning, you’re going to have these bugs and issues. They released it ahead of time, before we were ready, which they shouldn’t have. We had to scramble to get things together on our end.
“This is our first week out. We’re going to have bugs… It happens. It sucks that it had to happen to us our first week out.”
Zeus is still in need of tune-ups, like with its current search functions. Although it allows users to look through content by creator, it fails to tag stars across multiple shows. If you want to watch Bach, for example, clicking on his page will show you only his featured show, Your Best Life. But Bach has appearances in many other shows across the platform as well, including Rap Battles and DeStorm’s Power’s Caught. The site also doesn’t give subscribers any idea of when new content is coming.
According to Plummer and Power, Zeus’ creators will continue to roll out new features and content as its user base grows. The goal is to turn Zeus into a major global platform for creators, one that could rival the likes of Netflix or Hulu with original content. “We want to be another platform that gives millennials and new people, new content creators, [a place] to do their passion projects who would never get in the door trying to pitch a traditional platform or network,” says Plummer. Eventually, they hope to expand into longer features and films. “We don’t look at ourselves as disruptors,” adds Plummer. “We’re more extenders.”
Zeus creators declined to provide subscription numbers or demographics, but they say the platform is currently exceeding their expectations. Whether it’s successful on the scale it aims to be, however, it marks another step away from traditional celebrity and into the fold of creator fame. “I look at content creators as the new stars,” says Plummer. “They’re the new Hollywood stars and celebrities, and I think everyone in the business is going to want to work with them, or need to work with them, in some way, shape, or form.”