While it seems unnecessary to introduce someone whose YouTube channel has more than 53 million subscribers, many people still are unaware of PewDiePie. This likely is due to the fact that PewDiePie -- or Pewds, as his fans lovingly refer to him -- appeals mainly to a younger demographic: kids and pre-teens. PewDiePie's childish sense of humor, proclivity for foul language and frequent girlish screams aren't exactly geared to woo the hearts of minds of those with more mature sensibilities.
Nevertheless, PewDiePie has built a massive audience for his YouTube channel. He plays video games and offers commentary, gives us glimpses of his general lifestyle as he chats with his girlfriend and appears in other short-form comedy videos.
Pewds' real name is Felix Kjellberg. He's of Swedish origin but speaks English in all of his videos. He derived his moniker from the sound laser weapons make in video games ("pew"), death ("die") and a cutesy suffix ("pie") added just for giggles. The college dropout began creating videos for YouTube in 2010 while working at a hot-dog stand.
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While PewDiePie's channel had little initial success, things took off once he began uploading videos of himself reacting to scary video games while playing them. If you're older than 18, you might ask yourself, "Wait a second -- this guy built a following of 53 million subscribers by talking over clips of himself playing video games?" In short, yes. That's exactly what he did.
"OK, then," you think. "His commentary must be comedic gold, full of insightful observations and clever witticisms." Nope. His sense of humor is objectively juvenile and even offensive at times. So how did a hot-dog-slinging potty mouth make $15 million in 2016?
It's simple: He's 100 percent authentic. Whether you find Pewds' humor hilarious or lewd, you can't deny he's always himself. That resonates with his viewers, many of whom feel that watching one of his videos is like hanging out with a close friend.
PewDiePie’s fans (he calls them "bros") are notoriously devoted. He's drawn huge crowds at speaking events, and the hysteria directed toward him is somewhat reminiscent of Beatlemania.
Given the amount of money Pewds has raked in, it’s no wonder other entertainers hope to cash in big with a YouTube channel success. But if authenticity trumps traditional notions of talent, how does one determine an audience's taste before investing time and money? Authenticity alone can’t be the only relevant factor. If that were the case, every sad tween with a video diary would be a millionaire.
While I don’t have a quick and easy recipe for how to make a multimillion-dollar YouTube channel, I can tell you that entering a popular niche in its early days will help. For example, when PewDiePie first started publishing his video-game commentary videos, watching others play video games was not a “thing.” Now consider the following passage from Rolling Stone:
"Over 30 percent of internet users in the U.S. watch other internet users play video games online. Twitch, a video game streaming platform acquired by Amazon for $970 million last August, is referred to as the 'gamer's ESPN,' but it draws a much larger audience than the sports network. With 100 million unique viewers per month, watching on average over an hour-and-a-half of gameplay per day, it frequently ranks as the fourth-highest trafficked site in the U.S., behind Netflix, Google and Apple."
PewDiePie’s YouTube success has given him the opportunity to branch out into other media as well. In 2015, he published "This Book Loves You," a book consisting of illustrations and parody quotes. The book sold 112,000 copies as of January 2017. His success also earned him a partnership with Disney, which recently was terminated due to anti-Semitic content.
Even with that controversy, PewDiePie’s audience size and annual revenue justify his continued reign as the King of YouTube. But no reign lasts forever. One day, another YouTuber will surpass Pewds and take the crown. Here are a few of the video creators nipping at his heels.
Ray William Johnson
Ray William Johnson is an actor, comedian, director, producer and rapper whose YouTube channel currently has 10.4 million followers. He’s produced videos on the platform for seven years and has a devoted base of enthusiastic fans.
Johnson has transitioned from YouTube to Hollywood, founding the production company Mom & Pop Empire. The Group co-produced the film "Manson Family Vacation" with indie juggernauts The Duplass Brothers. As of 2016, Johnson's net worth was pegged at $5 million.
Smosh Comedy Duo
Hecox and Padilla also are behind "Food Battle: The Game." They released "Smosh: The Movie" in 2015, debuted the "Part-Timers" web series in 2016 and voiced animated characters in "The Angry Birds Movie."
As of 2016, the duo had an estimated net worth of $11.8 million.
In addition to producing YouTube videos, Ballinger performs live comedy routines. She often takes on the persona of her most famous character, Miranda Sings. Sings satirizes hack YouTube singers whom she judges to be talentless, narcissistic and overly confident. Sings also often lambastes her critics and reads hate mail. She coined the phrase “Haters Back Off!” and made it the title of her 2016 Netflix series, which was renewed for a second season set to air this year.
As of 2016, Ballinger’s net worth was $2 million.
Matthew Santoro hit it big on YouTube with his "50 AMAZING Facts to Blow Your Mind!" videos and various Top 10 videos such as "10 MYTHICAL CREATURES That Actually EXISTED!" and "10 CONSPIRACY THEORIES Theories That Turned Out to be TRUE!"
The Canadian YouTuber has accrued more than 5.7 million subscribers and produced numerous videos with greater than 7 million views. He also hosts Quest Nutrition’s "Food for Thought" web series. He published "MIND=BLOWN" in 2016. That same year, his network was estimated at $2.4 million.