How Forbes’ list of highest-paid YouTube stars 2016 shows influencers are dramatically underpaid

The top 12 YouTube creators earned a combined $70.5 million in the 12-months to June. They’ll be earning far more this time next year – writes Scott Guthrie

This week Forbes published its second annual ranking of the top-paid YouTube stars.

The US business magazine has identified the 10 channels that made the most from their streaming stardom.

These 12 internet celebrities earned a combined $70.5 million in the 12 months ending in June—a 23% increase from last year’s total according to Forbes.

Too much to pay a bunch of pranksters, nerdy bakers, rappers and eGamers? Not enough when you factor in their reach, subscription figures and the huge level of engagement they provoke from their devoted audiences.

The Forbes list calculates earnings before management fees and taxes are factored in. The business site’s figures are based on data from Nielsen, IMDB and other sources, as well as on interviews with agents, managers, lawyers, industry insiders and the stars themselves.

Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox – the comedy duo known online as Smosh enter Forbes’ list of highest-paid YouTube Stars of 2016 at number 4.

This is no overnight success story, though. Padilla and Hecox were YouTube pioneers starting their Smosh comedy channel in November 2005.

Over last 11 years they’ve:

  • Produced more than 800 videos
  • Gained 22.5m subscribers
  • Amassed 6.1 billion video views
  • They now run seven channels
  • Average 1.5 million video views per day

Felix Avrid Ulf Kjellberg (A.K.A PewDiePie) topped the list for the second time, reportedly earning $15m in the 12 months to June.

Again the the eGamer and video ranter has had to put in some hard yards to achieve such celebrity.

Since joining YouTube six-and-a-half years ago he’s:

  • Uploaded over 3,000 videos
  • Gained 49.8 million YouTube subscribers
  • Generated 13.8 billion video views
  • Average 2.6 million video views per day

To put that into perspective viewing figures for CBS’ free-to-air US comedy The Big Bang Theory stand at 15.68 million in the US before international broadcast and syndication. This gives the show the second highest ranking in the US.

I tracked down some old ad rates (April 2013) for The Big Bang Theory: at the time it commanded the highest ad price selling 30-second ad slots for $326,260 each. That’s $6.5 million an episode in ad revenue, if the show sells around 10 minutes of commercial time for each episode. Again this does not take into account syndication and later sales.

There are 24 episodes in a season that’s $156m. Again excluding international syndication, later sales, merchandising etc.

The main actors in the Big Bang Theory reportedly renegotiated their pay packets in 2014 to $1 million per episode – or $24 million a season before other television or movie work.

YouTube creators don’t usually rely on a team of writers, producers, and editors instead undertaking many of these duties themselves. As ever-increasing numbers leave the telly box in favour of gorging on YouTube channels brands will increasingly turn to creators for pre-roll ads and influencer marketing opportunities.

By the end of the decade YouTube stars will consume the entire top-20 celebrity influencer list for American teenagers according to celebrity brand strategist Jeetendr Sehdev in a Variety commissioned survey.

Full List: The Highest-Paid YouTube Stars 2016

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About the Author Scott Guthrie

Scott Guthrie works with companies to drive business growth in the social age through strategic insight and technical know-how. That's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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3 comments
PewDiePie hit 50m YouTube subscribers over night. Now a switch to Facebook? – Scott Guthrie says December 9, 2016

[…] also topped the Forbes Rich List for top-paid YouTube stars for the second year reportedly amassing an income of $15m for the 12-months to June […]

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How Influencer marketers can avoid a PewDiePie incident – Scott Guthrie says February 16, 2017

[…] also topped the Forbes Rich List for top-paid YouTube stars for the second year reportedly amassing an income of $15m for the 12-months to June […]

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Rosario Gooch says September 16, 2017

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