Now You Can Watch ‘Mean Girls’ on TikTok. Here’s Why Creators Should Care.

Phoenix 1319/Shutterstock rvlsoft/Shutterstock YouTube Movies & TV/YouTube Remix by Caterina Cox

In honor of October 3rd, also known as “Mean Girls Day” in internet meme parlance, Paramount has uploaded the entire 2004 high school comedy to the TikTok app. 

Yup, that’s right — anyone willing to watch the film vertically, broken up into 23 chunks, can now pull up “Mean Girls” for free.

This stunt isn’t happening in isolation. Increasingly, entertainment companies have started experimenting with new ways of releasing and sharing content, recognizing that attention on social media and cultural “buzz” may matter more, in the long run, than a hefty ad spend or platform exclusivity. 

This is a dramatic swing from the early days of streaming when studios and copyright holders more generally tended to take a sort of “zero-sum” approach to new platforms. At its core, the understanding was that rarity, even exclusivity, gives content its value. In order to get a mass of new subscribers to your streaming platform, the thinking went, you needed lots of high-profile original shows that were unavailable to view anywhere else. 

Exclusivity Can Sometimes … Exclude

This philosophy went beyond just streaming platforms as well. Exhibitors demanded lengthy exclusive theatrical windows for new movies before they could go on streaming platforms, afraid that Netflix or HBO Max might cannibalize their box office returns. The rivalry over having to share streaming rights of “South Park” between their two services got so heated, that Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount sued one another earlier this year.

Hollywood copyright holders are also notorious for striking down videos containing film and TV content on social media platforms like YouTube. For example, immediately after Twitter/X started offering posts with longer video streams, users started posting bootlegged copies of Hollywood films, requiring the app to find and shut them down individually, like a digital game of whack-a-mole.

As it turns out, this is a pretty limited view that doesn’t accurately account for viewership habits in the aggregate. Studios, streamers, and media companies are discovering more and more what native digital content creators likely realized from the very beginning: Conversation and discourse drive viewers — not exclusivity. 

Buzz Feeds

If more people see something notable, and share this with their friends and followers, it creates a snowball effect that drives more eyeballs, regardless of where it’s posted or how many apps can access it at once. In fashion, timed releases and strategic rarity make an everyday item a must–have. But in entertainment, making something harder to find can prevent it from having a breakout moment entirely.

Warner Bros. Discovery got a lot of heat when they announced plans to license HBO originals to other streaming platforms. But after “Insecure” and “Ballers” debuted in some countries on Netflix, their viewership numbers increased even back on Max, where they’d been available all along. 

This has been the trend in live streaming as well. While platforms like Twitch once focused on signing exclusive deals with the most popular streamers, locking them and their fans into a single app, the company did away with platform exclusivity last year, allowing streamers to share their feeds on multiple services. Obviously, this is good for creators, who get to cast the widest net possible when converting new fans and followers. But it also helps to make Let’s Play videos and gaming streams generally more popular and easy to share, which in the end, is helpful for Twitch as well.

Old Content, New Tricks

This brings us back to the “Mean Girls” TikTok debacle. The stunt helps Paramount simply remind audiences that the movie exists, and it’s something they may want to revisit on their own time — either on “Mean Girls Day” or in the immediate aftermath. As with HBO’s “Insecure” and “Ballers” moves, it appears to be working.

Paramount’s official “Mean Girls” TikTok had just 700 followers when the film was uploaded, and they’re well over 143K now that I’m writing this column. The clip that includes the reference to “October 3” and the original of “Mean Girls Day” has over 5.3 million views on the platform. #MeanGirlsDay also trended throughout the day yesterday on X/Twitter.

The evidence is starting to really pile up that we’re living in an attention economy, where the hardest thing in the world is grabbing your target demographic’s attention. Once that work is done, there are options for what to do with them. It’s an opportune moment for big media, with Wall Street getting way more budget-conscious, and streamers and their parent companies scouring their ledgers for any opportunities to save money. Obviously, it’s much easier to chop up an old movie into segments and put it on a new platform than devise something new and original to command clicks and eyeballs.

But of course, it’s very old news indeed for creators, who’ve long realized that HYPE is the only distribution strategy that matters. Twitter addicts might have laughed when TikToker Kyle Gordon uploaded three different versions of his “Planet of the Bass” Euro-pop parody, all before the song’s “official” release date, but he was just capitalizing on this same lesson. You can blanket the airwaves with reminders to watch a piece of content, but no paid marketing will ever be as effective as the entire social internet coming together to share the same clip at once.

New Platforms Mean New Opportunities To Get Screwed Over

Some internet cynics pointed out that TikTok feeds don’t pay out any kind of residuals to creators, so even if Paramount finds some way to benefit from new audiences watching “Mean Girls” on TikTok, neither Lohan, McAdams, co-writer Tina Fey nor director Mark Waters will see any of that money. 

For entertainment companies, more platforms largely means more opportunities to get around old contracts as well. For creators, vigilance certainly counts: Every new distribution channel is a new chance to get ripped off.

As well, it’s worth pointing out that studios like Paramount have spent years and millions of dollars pulling clips from their films whenever fans post them on social media or user-generated content platforms, even issuing copyright strikes on creators’ videos with added commentary and analysis. If “Mean Girls” on TikTok gives the film a visibility boost without costing the company any money on VOD rentals or what have you, perhaps it makes sense to loosen the litigious reigns on their copyright protection departments?

So even though watching full-length movies on TikTok may never become standard practice, it’s still a new trend that’s worth watching and speaks to our peculiar transitional moment, as companies figure out how to serve a new always-on internet audience.

Do you have a clue about our next big story? Email [email protected] to share what you know.

Content for Creators.

News, tips, and tricks delivered to your inbox twice a week.

Newsletter Signup

Top Stories