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Advertisers Want Internet Stars, and Niche Wants to Connect Them

Matt Cutshall used to be a waiter. Now he's making money as a micro-movie celebrity.

Instagram / Matt Cutshall
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Matt Cutshall used to be in a boy band, but that fizzled out. Then he spent two years waiting tables in West Hollywood.

Now he has a new gig: Starring in Instagrams and Vines, with TV networks like Showtime (that’s an ad for its “Californication” show, above) and apps like Magic Piano footing the bill.

Next week you should be able to see Cutshall’s latest effort, when he’ll appear on Instagram wearing clothes from the Gap, which is using him as part of its campaign.

Cutshall will likely make a few thousand dollars for the gig, which he figures will take him about three hours of work. This kind of stuff will make him something like $75,000 this year, he figures.

“I love it,” he said. “I get a lot of free time. I make my own schedule.”

Cutshall’s work is also a good business for Niche, the New York-based startup that matches advertisers with a new breed of Internet star. Niche, which launched last year, is effectively a lightweight production house — it takes money from marketers and uses it to hire some of the 2,500 creators it works with, who claim a collective reach of more than 500 million people.

By doing so, it represents one of the first efforts I’ve seen to actually scale “real” native ads, instead of repurposing videos, photos or old magazine stories. Once Niche’s stars make the ads, advertisers can pay to promote them on different social networks — or they can just let them generate their own attention, for free.

This Niche-made ad, paid for by Warner Bros. to promote “Godzilla” but distributed on Instagram free of charge, is one of my favorites. It’s got more than 28,000 likes.

It seems to be going well. The 15-person company says it is turning a profit on the $1.5 million in revenue it has made since last fall.

The Gap campaign Cutshall and other Niche talent are working on should generate something in the “high five-figure” range, says Niche co-founder Darren Lachtman, whose background is in digital marketing. His partner Rob Fishman used to run social media at the Huffington Post, then started Kingfish Labs, a startup built on Facebook data, which he sold to BuzzFeed.

Now the two men have raised a $2.5 million seed round led by SoftTech, along with other investors including Lerer Ventures, SV Angel, Advancit Capital and William Morris Endeavor. Gary Vaynerchuk, whose VaynerMedia also connects brands and social media stars, has put in money, too.

Niche doesn’t have exclusive deals with any of the talent it works with, but helps recruit them by offering free analytics, so they can see how their social media campaigns are working. Those stats are valuable to advertisers, too, who often pay them based on the audiences they’ve accumulated.

Cutshall says a typical Vine advertiser pays its talent $3 for every thousand followers they’ve collected on the video network, but he says he’s able to charge $4 for every thousand. He’s currently at 323,000.

Maybe that number will increase, because Cutshall says his Vine work is getting more than ad dollars. He recently got an audition for a movie where he could play opposite Anna Kendrick; he says Comedy Central wants to talk to him, too.

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