It is hard to imagine that the video sharing website YouTube has only been in existence since 2005. In just a short time YouTube has grown into a massive global “community” with over a billion users, which “reaches more 18- to 34- and 18- to 49-year-olds than any cable network in the U.S.” according to the website.
The success of YouTube has paved the way for a new kind of celebrity. Dubbed YouTubers, normal everyday people have found a way to rise to fame by reaching a massive global audience through their individual YouTube channels. “The Internet celebrity aspect is almost more of a personal thing. They come up to you, they see you on a regular basis,” says YouTuber Mitchell Davis, who posts a stream of consciousness videos as “LiveLavaLive.”
The YouTube celebrity phenomena began in 2007 when the YouTube Partner Program was launched. Through the program, creators can monetize content on YouTube through advertisements, paid subscriptions and merchandise. Today, creators of original video content with the most subscriptions to their channel are earning six-figure amounts from YouTube.
However, there are also other ways in which popular YouTube content creators and vloggers are making money. Content creators with over 100,000 subscribers to their channel will receive offers from talent agencies to represent them. A strong following on YouTube appeals to these agencies, who will then organize a variety of different deals outside of YouTube for their clients.
A third way for YouTube content creators to earn a substantial income is by expanding their web presence through social media and a website. This will entice companies to offer sponsorships to the YouTuber, who can promote their products and feature the company’s advertisements on their website.
“I was a starving artist, for six years, prior to going viral, I made $6,000 a year or less breeding dogs, doing photography, eBay and cutting firewood. When I went viral, money started coming in from TV ads that I was in, the Gregory Bros. ‘Double Rainbow’ song, (which I still get checks from), licensing my videos, and public appearances,” says YouTuber Paul Vasquez, who posts videos to his YouTube channel Yosemitebear62.
According to Forbes’ The Highest-Paid YouTube Stars 2016 list, the 12 YouTubers on the list earned a combined annual income of $70.5 million. At the top of the list, for the second year in a row, is the Swedish gamer Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, who earned $15 million.
The Swede uploads videos of himself playing video games to his YouTube channel PewDiePie, which currently has over 50 million subscribers. He is also the first person to ever reach 10 billion YouTube views. While capitalizing on his YouTube success, Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg released a book (entitled This Book Loves You), a sock line and two video games.
Second on the list is the prankster Roman Atwood, who made $8million. Roman Atwood’s channel has over 10 million subscribers, while his vlog channel has over 11 million subscribers. His YouTube success led to a feature film, Natural Born Pranksters, as well as television appearances. He also banks on merchandise and sponsorships.
“I posted a video on YouTube every week for a year before I got any real traction. I started out posting comedy sketches, but they didn’t really get that much attention. I started to post pranks on my channel and I’d get more views on one of those than I would on all my sketches combined,” he says.
A group of undergraduate students in the Internet and Mobile Media Concentration at Columbia College in Chicago conducted an in-depth YouTube Study in 2013, where they analyzed the 240 most subscribed YouTube channels. According to the study, the most successful channels:
- Edit their videos down to 4 minutes 19 seconds.
- Upload 1.25 videos per week.
- Speak at a rate of 150 words per minute.
- Edit at a rate of 9 cuts per minute.
- Type 56.6 words in the video description.
- Post on their Facebook pages at the rate of 0.7 posts per day and tweet at the rate of 2.93 tweets per day.
According to tubefilter there are over 2,000 YouTube channels with seven-digit subscriber counts. YouTube statistics show that the number of channels earning six-figure amounts annually is increasing by 50% year over year. In 2016 research by Statistic Brain showed that Google generates annual revenue of $4 billion from YouTube.
When considering that time spent on watching television by 18- to 49-year-olds in 2015 went down by 4%, according to Google, while the same group of people spent 74% more time watching YouTube, it is clear that YouTube celebrities’ influence and reach are increasing.
“We’re in the middle of a time of big change in the entertainment world. This could turn into something even bigger or I could be left in the dust. I don’t know. I’m enjoying the ride, though,” says YouTuber Craig Benzine, who posts videos to his channel WheezyWaiter.