The Rise Of The Professional YouTuber

Social ‘influencers’ aren’t just on Twitter and Instagram…

It’s a measure of YouTube’s phenomenal rise that within a year of its launch in 2005 it was sold to Google for over $1.6 billion. The creation of three former PayPal employees, it has long been synonymous with online video content. Indeed, YouTubing is now a recognised verb, just like Photoshopping or Googling.

Google’s prescience in snapping up YouTube in its early days is truly impressive. Today, YouTube is far more than a platform for music videos and pratfalls; it can actually be a lucrative source of income, and the professional YouTuber is a rapidly-growing phenomenon. In essence, this niche industry involves people creating large amounts of content that generate advertising revenue, which in turn is shared between the creators and YouTube itself.

It’s difficult to attach precise monetary values to the success of professional YouTubers. Firstly, the figures for individual artists are often combined into a wider channel valuation, which in turn is rolled into YouTube’s annual turnover. Secondly, few artists are willing to put their heads above the parapet and announce how much they earned last year. However, one Swedish video game commentator is reported to have earned over $7.4 million in 2014 alone.

Interestingly, most of last year’s top twenty YouTube stars made their money from either toy reviews or commentaries on computer games. A great deal of content is reactive rather than original, though musical or comedic output can also build large audiences. The cornerstone of any career as a YouTuber involves the regular uploading of material, giving fans a reason to return frequently and also maximising the potential for videos to be shared on other platforms. The failure of Google+ has unquestionably damaged YouTube, but there are still file-sharing links under each video for thirteen different platforms, from Twitter to Tumblr.

Given the ongoing explosion in content production, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Google has recommissioned a former film studio in LA where content can be created for YouTube videos in a professional multi-camera environment. Google has big plans for its video platform, and supporting content creators is central to populating YouTube with original content that will attract repeat visitors to its leading channels. With billions of dollars of advertising revenue now being generated by YouTube’s various national and international domains, the website’s business model increasingly resembles a traditional television network. Prime material from leading content producers can offset the losses incurred by more niche material, as well as supporting the huge bandwidth costs of a platform that (along with Netflix) can take up half of North America’s internet traffic at peak times.

As well as attracting huge amounts of advertising revenue (both banner adverts and the video clips that play before a chosen file begins streaming), some YouTubers have secured corporate sponsors who pay for product placement in their videos. This exploits loopholes that don’t exist in conventional broadcasting, where product placement is frowned upon. These regulations are far stricter in the UK than across the Atlantic, but even American broadcasters can be censured for excessive product placement. The less-regulated internet offers far greater scope for brand-based advertising within original content.

In a curious conflation of modern technologies, some YouTube channels are created through crowdfunding. Indiegogo and Kickstarter are the two platforms where artists can seek financial support for their work, while a number of websites allow fans to make donations to their favourite artists. More traditional means of funding include paid acting roles and public appearances, though most people remain largely ignorant about the cult of celebrity surrounding today’s YouTube stars. Could you name the Swedish artist who has 40 million YouTube subscribers? Until most people can answer ‘yes’ to that question, it seems the professional YouTuber will remain a niche phenomenon – even if it is gradually entering the global mainstream.

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