His journey to find love might not be airing in primetime, but Matt Wurnig (also known as the TikTok Bachelor) has gotten triple the audience on his most popular TikTok video than “The Bachelor” franchise secures on an average night — on a fraction of the budget.
The Season 19 premiere of “The Bachelorette” aired to about 3 million live plus same-day viewers on July 11, according to official Nielsen data. The three pinned videos at the top of Wurnig’s “50 Dates 50 States” account boast about 11 million views total, and that’s not including the hundreds of other videos Wurnig has posted since he decided to launch his series about dates he sets up with women from all 50 states.
“What I’m doing is just different,” the 25-year-old Montana native told TheWrap, adding that, unlike traditional linear television, his following (474,000 and counting on TikTok) doesn’t come close to describing how many people he’s reached with his web series. With the way that TikTok’s “for you page” functions, his videos can be seen by virtually any of the platform’s 1 billion active monthly users at any time.
What started as a way to connect with people during COVID-19 lockdowns has transformed into a social media franchise for Wurnig, who worked for the Bismarck Larks baseball team when he began setting up virtual Tinder dates with women across the country in peak-pandemic 2020. In 2021, he set out on a road trip to meet up with one woman from each state and chronicled the adventure on TikTok.
He admits he was a relative newbie to the reality dating genre. “The most I’ve ever watched is one full season of ‘The Bachelor’ a couple of years ago,” he said. “I don’t pay too close attention to them, but they inspire me in terms of I want ’50 Dates 50 States’ to be — the next ‘Bachelor.’ I do want it to be that next thing where people are like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s really cool.’”
The high concept is key to the show’s success. “The cool value behind it is that if it involves someone from every single state, it’s not as selective as a lot of dating shows are,” he said. “So it’s almost like you combine ‘Miss America’ and ‘The Bachelor.’”
Over the course of Season 1, Wurnig’s series garnered 70 million views and over 12 million likes. Now, he has nearly 23 million likes across his videos. He can rack up as many as 1 million views per TikTok. The “50 Dates 50 States” hashtag has 180 million views.
Wurnig and his team declined to tell TheWrap just how much it cost to produce the second season of “50 Dates 50 States,” but it’s no doubt less than the millions that ABC pours into one of its longest-running and most popular franchises each season. While Wurnig was basically on his own last season, he’s now been able to secure sponsorships and investors to help fund Season 2. He also makes money through social media revenue, including brand partnerships.
“I remember Season 1, I was working at my full-time job. And I didn’t have a sponsor at all, but I had like this feeling,” he said. “I was like, I know that sponsors will come and brands will come and so I quit my full-time job and I didn’t have a sponsor before quitting, but then after I quit, the sponsors started rolling in. So I’m really glad I took that leap of faith.”
Wurnig is just one example of the rising importance of TikTok influencers in the media industry. The meteoric rise of short-form video content, led by the app owned by China-based ByteDance, has completely reshaped the creator economy over the last several years and sent everyone from advertisers to production houses chasing after them.
While YouTube currently remains the top dog for monetizing social video, TikTok may have an opportunity to seize the crown as advertisers begin to take advantage of the popularity of short-form videos. Shorter ads already make up the majority of ad spending, and other tech companies are following in TikTok’s footsteps. Meta previously announced a Feeds tab similar to TikTok for Facebook and attempted to shift Instagram’s content to be more video-centric, although the company walked back those plans following criticism.
Massive spending on creator funds in the past few years also reflects a shift in how platforms and content-makers do business. Back in 2020, TikTok led the charge by investing $200 million in content creators looking to grow their businesses. The following year, Snapchat funneled $250 million into its Spotlight fund, YouTube spent $100 million on its Shorts fund and Meta started doling out gamified cash bonuses via Instagram Reels.
For “50 Dates 50 States,” Wurnig has been able to capitalize on all of the above in order to monetize his platform. This season, he told TheWrap, he’s on a mission to find true love. The women who make it to his top 10 will be brought to Miami to continue to get to know Wurnig, before he picks one woman with whom he’d like to spend four nights in Puerto Rico.
And he has had a lot of candidates to choose from. Following the Season 2 announcement, Wurnig received 10,000 date applications in two months as women flocked at the chance to be a part of the next installment. If all works out, Wurnig will be off the market by the end of the season — but he’s already planned for how “50 Dates 50 States” can continue even if he’s off the dating market. “I can probably bring someone else new,” he said. “Now that I have it lined out and have some structure to it, [I can] keep it fresh and relevant.”
While he’s finding success on social media, Wurnig hopes to find a home for the series on a streaming platform. Right now, he produces episodes on YouTube and recaps them on TikTok. “If I can get this to a higher platform, and people can look into it and go, ‘Oh, this [series was created by] a kid from a small town in Montana.’ That’s pretty cool. ‘If he can do it? Why can’t I?’ So yeah, it’s creating opportunities and inspiring people, that’s basically what I hope to continue to accomplish.”
Additional reporting by Antoinette Sui.