Going Viral: YouTube and Its Moneymakers
On 16 June 2006, only a year after YouTube first made its appearance on the Internet, a series of vlogs by a 16-year-old girl called Bree rapidly gathered attention. The narrative-driven videos of her awkward teenage confessions and their naïve personal nature were something totally new and unique. Back in 2006 YouTube was a video-sharing community of friends and not the familiar place of viral videos and YouTube celebrities with huge followers that it is now. Her video diaries were appealing in the new world of sleek screens, instant gratification and fast communication. Unfolded in a series of videos, her story was captured in 1-minute clips that painted what its creators considered as an authentic image of teenage angst and millennial boredom. Because, as it was later uncovered, neither Bree nor her confessions were real. The vlogs were scripted and Bree’s character fictional, played by actress Jessica Lee Rose. Its creators, taking advantage of the illusory nature of media and the free lessons of so many YouTubers’ videos, have realised that a fictional web series using the vlogger format could be created and produced in a realistic manner. Having her own MySpace account, a blog about her in The New York Times, and her own forum, Bree’s persona took a life of her own in a hyperreal world where identities are made and unmade by the click of a button.
Becoming the most-subscribed channel, with Bree’s first vlog accumulating 5,786,160 views to date, lonelygirl15 was active for two years, within which Bree’s real identity was uncovered increasing worldwide interest. In 2006 lonelygirl15’s blog won Biggest Web Hit Award on VH1's Big in '06 Awards. The web series also featured the first product placement with actors shown to be eating Hershey's Icebreaker's Sours Gum, while a character from Neutrogena, Dr. Spencer Gilman, was integrated into the storyline.
After two years, while her character was killed off, the videos continued, but the narrative was expanded into an alternate reality game (OpAphid), while a UK version and a sequel called Lonelygirl 15: The Resistance followed. On 16 June 2016, lonelygirl15 has returned to YouTube with new videos, but, perhaps, the original effect of her vlogs might not be the same. However, loneygirl15’s successful vlogs demonstrated that for the first time you could make money on YouTube.
Making Money on YouTube
Created by Miles Beckett, Mesh Flinders and Greg & Amanda Goodfried, lonelygirl15 is the offspring of their collective efforts to create and popularise Bree and her universe. Identifying at the time YouTube’s growing appeal and community, they decided to focus on increasing lonelygirl15’s profile views by replying to every comment and, consequently, appearing in the most commented section. Other strategies to increase views consisted of figuring out the algorithm in order to be able to choose which freeze frame to use for each video. The right freeze frame, for example, could generate 100,000 more views.
Their success does point to the fact that making money on YouTube depends for the most part on the kind of followers you have and how engaged and loyal they are. PewDiePie’s success lies in his unique product and individual style as well as the kind of community he has gathered around him. YouTube might not make everyone an instant millionaire, but it is an ideal place to market yourself if you have a unique, fresh and consistent product. Whether you are great in a particular activity (cooking, singing, dancing, comedy, beauty), want to help and show people how to make things, or simply make them laugh, YouTube is the right home for testing and showcasing your talents. Setting your channel to earn money (enable monetisation) and using ads (Google AdSense), fan funding, working with brands, merchandising, or crowdfunding are some of YouTubers’ used and proved strategies. New and old media are also finding new ways to push products utilising the celebrity status of YouTubers. For example, Hannah MacPherson’s Sickhouse, a 68-minute horror film available on Vimeo for download, and shot with iPhones in five days, was initially available as 10-second clips on Snapchat. It was uploaded by YouTube celebrity and Sickhouse’s leading actress Andrea Russett on her Snapchat account, @andwizzle. Russett’s 2.5 million subscribers on YouTube is what counts here. Her YouTube stardom is based on long and hard work:
It’s one thing to have a viral video. It’s another to build a community. The first is lightning in a bottle, the second is persistent, genuine and creative work.
The Richest, Most Famous YouTuber.
Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, is famous for his Let's Play videos, in which he comments on recorded gaming sessions, and for his comedy sketches and collaborations with big YouTubers. He reportedly earned approximately $4 million in 2013 and $7.5 million in 2014. He has currently 45,928,309 subscribers on his YouTube channel and it is estimated that since 2010 he has earned $124 million. His net worth amounts to 61 million dollars. That’s more than Bernie Sanders’ or Hilary Clinton’s net worth which is $528,014 and $31.2 million respectively. A university dropout, without any other financial support, PewDiePie had to work at a hot dog stand to make ends meet and continue uploading his YouTube videos. By December 2011, PewDiePie’s channel amassed 60,000 subscribers. PewDiePie recalls that,
I knew people were big at other types of videos, but there was no one big in gaming, and I didn’t know you could make money out of it. It was never like a career that I could just quit college to pursue. it was just something I loved to do. And here we are five years later and it’s exploded.
PewDiePie made the top of Forbes’ October 2015 list of the richest YouTube stars with $12 million. In 2015 Penguin Group released PewDiePie’s This Book Loves You, a parody of self-help books. What YouTube has done for a young comedian like PewDiePie is unprecedented. YouTube has offered him worldwide exposure, the ratings and the money that would never have happened otherwise. Most comedians physically have to perform stand-up comedy in smoky clubs all of their life without ever becoming famous.
YouTube has changed the rules of the game. Today 20-year-old kids become famous and rich overnight, without having to leave their bedroom. And because money talks, between 8 June-21 June PewDiePie has earned an estimated $821,942. With the current exchange rate of GBP being 1.478375 USD, it means that he made approximately 557,720 GBP in only just two weeks!