You can look at a YouTube personality cry-ranting about the latest Star Wars: Rogue One trailer from a corner of their parents' house, roll your eyes, and mutter, "Yeah, anyone could vlog," but let's face it: That's not true. These online celebrities decorated their bedrooms to look like the set of Clarissa Explains It All. They taught themselves HD streaming video technology. They blasted their memories on to the internet like buckshot, hoping to hit someone in some way. We think anyone could do it, but they actually did it.
And now they're making shit tons of money.
On Monday, Forbes dropped its second annual "Highest-Paid YouTube Stars" list, and the results will have you scrambling to the nearest webcam. The list combines data from Nielsen, IMDb, and additional research sources, as well as interviews Hollywood insiders and even the stars themselves (who are probably thrilled to tell their success stories) to zero in on a mystery number fans and skeptics alike are dying to know. Here's the top 10 for 2016, with ties labeled accordingly:
10. Colleen Ballinger: $5 million
10. Rhett and Link: $5 million
8. German Garmendia: $5.5 million
8. Markiplier: 5.5 million
6. Tyler Oakley: $6 million
6. Rosanna Pansino: $6 million
4. Smosh: $7 million
3. Lilly Singh: $7.5 million
2. Roman Atwood: $8 million
1. PewDiePie: $15 million
The success stories are diverse while entirely mainstream. Colleen Ballinger, best known for her screechy alter ego Miranda Sings, made bank in 2016 by transplanting her YouTube act to Netflix. Tyler Oakley turned a socially conscious LGBT-themed channel into a book deal and endless Ellen appearances. Video prankster Roman Atwood doubled his annual earnings by going on tour, starring in the feature film Natural Born Pranksters, and selling crazy amounts of merchandise (do you have your Atwood beanie?). Forbes notes that Smosh rocketed up the list by sponsoring their videos; in 2016, the comedy duo shot an entire series paid for by Schick razors.
Then there's PewDiePie, real name Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, the Swedish gamer who turned incessant video-game narration into a cultural phenomenon. In 2016, he booked a high-profile gig with YouTube's paid channel YouTube Red, debuted new mobile apps, and published his first book, which sold over 112,000 copies. What did you do?
Now, these totals don't come close to comparing to major names in more accepted fields. Taylor Swift supposedly earned $170 million in 2016. Hell, even Penn & Teller earned $31.5 million. But the work-play ratio favors the young, hot internet talent. There's no sacrificing going on here. They are their brands. And they're growing more powerful. As Forbes notes, the combined total, $70.5 million, is a 23% increase from last year's earnings. The YouTube stars are appreciating.
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