Teens used to dream of being movie stars, sauntering down red carpets in glamorous dresses before a glittering sea of paparazzi cameras. By and large, today’s youth aspire to YouTube stardom.
Operating a successful YouTube channel is no easy feat. The video sharing site has over 1 billion users and the average account sports just 238 subscribers. Even semi-successful YouTube partners with thousands of subscribers struggle to make a few hundred bucks a month from ads.
But YouTube’s super-users — the A-list celebs of the internet — rake in some serious dough. Here’s how the 10 most profitable users fared in 2016:
The list, compiled by the data team at Forbes, measures pre-tax (and pre-management fee) earnings, and draws on information from Nielsen, IMDB, and direct interviews with YouTubers and their agents. These figures include earnings from tours, book deals, feature films, and brand deals. (Roman Atwood, who ranks second here, has a big deal with Scott Toilet Paper, for instance.)
Combined, these 10 channels made an estimated $70.5 million between June 2015 and June 2016. As Forbes reports, this is a 23 percent increase from last year.
Among the highest earners are rapper Lilly Singh (IISuperwomanII), comedic duo Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla (Smosh), baking enthusiast Rosanna Pansino (Nerdy Nummies), LGBTQ activist Tyler Oakley, and a few gamers — including PewDiePie, who dominates the list at $15 million in annual earnings.
PewDiePie, a Swede by the name of Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, is YouTube’s undisputed king. He holds the Guinness World Record for most YouTube subscribers (at over 50 million, nobody even comes close), and his channel — mostly featuring snippets of him playing video games and cussing — has attracted more than 13 billion views.
But despite his success, the undisputed king of YouTube may be calling it quits.
YouTube’s No. 1 earner, PewDiePie, is super pissed at the site
Last week, PewDiePie posted a 10-minute video in which he furiously derided YouTube for what he considered to be a massive decline in the quality of the site’s content.
“I feel like YouTube is a toddler playing with knives,” he said. “There are videos that have nothing to do with quality — just really great titles and a really great thumbnail — that do well. My analytics are all going down, and I think my videos are getting better.”
In retaliation, PewDiePie claimed that he would delete his channel as soon as he hit 50 million subscribers. Yesterday, around 5 pm, he hit that total, and according to his Twitter, he will be deleting his YouTube account at 12 pm Eastern today.
will delete tomorrow 5pm gmt— pewdiepie (@pewdiepie) December 8, 2016
This claim is the latest in a string of strange behavior coming from the YouTuber. Earlier this year, he got himself unverified on Twitter for joking about ISIS, and he’s been embroiled in an endless cycle of feuds with other YouTube users over the past few months.
But with 50 million subscribers, PewDiePie is an undeniable asset to YouTube. He nearly doubles the next most popular channel, German Garmendia’s HolaSoyGerman (30 million).
For YouTube, his departure would signify the end of an era. And according to PewDiePie, this would be by design.
“I’m not gonna let YouTube win — I see how it is,” he says. “I have so many subscribers, they want to kill my channel. I’m always complaining to them, and I don’t have family friendly content. They want someone else on top.”
For now, though, PewDiePie is on top in every respect: His 50 million subscribers have earned him not only celebrity, but $15 million.