For some time now, "moving to L.A. to break into the movie business" has been the clichéd pipe dream for most creative young Americans. I live in Nashville, and I can tell you that a close second is "moving to Nashville to become a country music star.” But the digital world may be changing all that. In a few years' time, the most common pipe dream might very well be "starting my own YouTube channel and making a six figure income," if it's not already.
A new study by TubeMogul—a leading video advertising and analytics platform—reveals that there are at least 10 YouTube stars making an annual income of $100,000 or greater. The study covered the period from July 209 through July 2010. And these numbers don't even include pre-roll or overlay ad income, but just the banner-ad income. As Nalts points out, it's also not counting revenue that content producers can earn from Sponsored videos.
The Stars and Their YouTube Earnings
Here's the breakdown of the top ten YouTube earners according to TubeMogul:
10. Natalie Tran – AKA, communitychannel—a video blogger
Total views in the past year: 138,871,829
9. The Young Turks, a political talk show
Total views in the past year: 153,807,362
8. Smosh, a comedy duo
Total views in the past year: 154,936,876
7. Greg Benson—AKA, Mediocre Films—sketch comedy
Total views in the past year: 159,030,703
*Note – watch this video from Greg refuting the details of the report.
6. Shay Carl, sketch comedy
Total views in the past year: 192,309,247
5. Lucas Cruikshank—AKA, Fred—children's entertainer
Total views in the past year: 200,656,150
4. Ryan Higa, video blog & sketch comedy
Total views in the past year: 206,979,909
3. Philip DeFranco, video blogger
Total views in the past year: 248,735,032
2. Dane Boedigheimer—AKA, The Annoying Orange—comedy series
Total views in the past year: 349,753,047
1. Shane Dawson—AKA, Ask Shane & others—sketch comedy and parody
Total views in the past year: 431,787,450
Surely you recognize some—if not all—of these content creators. If you've spent any time at all in the last couple years browsing the popular or most-viewed videos on YouTube, you've run into most of these folks. But you probably didn't realize how much money they were making, did you?
What Can We Learn? Good Content => $$$
Every year or so there's a run of articles like this that point out how much money can be made using the latest web property. Remember several years ago, when the story was about how many bloggers were making serious money? Then it was MySpace Skin creators. And then it was app developers. And now YouTube. Heck, just earlier this year we saw articles (like this one) about how the creator of David After Dentist had turned just that one video into a six-figure income.
And what all these trends and fads have in common is what I call the number one rule of online commerce: if you can get enough traffic, you can make money. I don't care if you're offering home improvement tips, comedy videos, or custom-designed logos. Traffic equals money. Ad revenue is going to come naturally when you're getting millions of hits.
The danger, of course, is that it's tempting to assume after reading articles like this one that making a living on YouTube is easy. But just like blogs and Myspace and app-stores… it's far from easy… and it requires a ton of work. Most of these people on the list below have made YouTube their full-time job, shooting and editing and releasing videos weekly. You don't just launch a YouTube channel and immediately start getting hits.
Most of these people have been at it for years, diligently building a loyal following, and that takes tremendous effort, and lots of free time. It's probably not a coincidence that so many of these content creators are teenagers (or were when they started out), as teenagers tend to have less responsibility and more free time than full-time working adults like you and me. Their common age bracket also tells you something about how many young viewers there are on YouTube, and just how loyal that audience can be.
It's also interesting to see how powerful video blogging—essentially, sharing opinions through video journaling—and sketch comedy are on YouTube. Not one of these people is a singer posting clips of their newest songs. Not one of them is a journalist, teacher, or politician. Instead, it's the laughs and personalities that YouTube viewers seem to want the most of.
It may be easy to poke fun of studies like this, or its subjects. I've seen most of these shows, and haven't always been entertained by them. But how many of us have the time to devote to a weekly video blogging show? How many of us are willing to put our faces and personalities out there on a regular basis? How many of us are speaking to the issues that teenagers—the core audience group on YouTube—cares about? These people have earned their money. It's hard work doing what they do, and they paid their dues to get to this point. Please don't think you can just upload a video blog tomorrow and be on your way to $100,000 by year's end… because you probably can't.
I don't want to sound like I'm suggesting this kind of success can't be recreated. It can, if you have the time, creativity, and dedication. But that's a pretty big "if.” Your odds of being in this list of top ten YouTube earners next year are about as good as my odds of getting signed to a record deal and winning a CMA. But if you set more reasonable goals, your chances of success increase dramatically.
While we may traditionally think of YouTube as a way to market our preexisting business, it might be time to start thinking of it as a possible new revenue stream as well. The big lesson for us to learn here is this: you can earn money on YouTube. Maybe not $315,000 a year like Shane Dawson. Maybe not quit-your-job-and-buy-a-mansion money… but good content will get views. And views will provide advertising potential. And advertising potential will eventually turn into dollars.