Can you make a living on YouTube?

Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 01:00

Becoming a YouTube partner means you can make money by posting videos, and some Irish people have managed to build themselves online careers

THE RISE OF user-generated online content has created a host of Irish stars who are unlikely to grace the covers of celebrity magazines or cut the ribbons on new supermarkets. Some of these people have a bigger online following than mainstream Irish chat shows, and are signing up to financially beneficial sponsorship and merchandising deals for simply documenting their daily lives online. So who are Ireland’s young YouTube stars?

YouTube (owned by Google) is protective of the deals the company makes with its online stars. Making money from the site is a slow burner, yet its partner programme enables creators of original videos to earn a slice of the advertising revenue built around it.

For most Irish YouTube partners, while the income is welcome, it’s not all about the direct revenue streams from the company. Stephen Byrne, a 21-year-old television presenter, made his first YouTube videos in 2007, and had a big hit with a video based on his insomnia, which attracted more than 100,000 views. Following some slagging from school friends when YouTube gave his contributions prominence, Byrne took the videos down. Later he beganjoining YouTube gatherings in London and Toronto, and his fame began to grow.

“My videos ended up being on Fox News,” says Byrne. “I think they thought I was famous. My mum was like ‘What the hell is going on?’ Next I got a call from RTÉ saying they’d love to meet me and do an online show. I thought it was people in school playing a prank on me. In 2009, YouTube featured me globally and I got 1.2 million views.”

Byrne’s biggest challenge at the time was convincing his parents and friends that what he was doing was worthwhile. “At the start, my mum was concerned with me doing my Leaving Cert and she used to cut off the internet at six or seven at night, and I’d find ways of tapping into the next door neighbour’s internet. She’d come up to my room at two in the morning and the room would be covered in tin foil and I’d be making a set. One day I turned around and shouted to her: ‘I am creating a brand and RTÉ will want me one day.’ She said I needed to go to bed. I was about 17.”

Byrne realised his ambition and currently presents Juice, a regular entertainment show on RTÉ television, featuring interviews and online interaction. He still gets regular payments for his YouTube videos. More than that, though, his online experience has given him a large circle of friends, a career, and opportunities to travel that would never have come his way.

“I do get regular cheques and even if I don’t make a video, my old ones are still gaining views. I won’t disclose what I’m earning but I know someone in London, who is 20 years old and he has been making YouTube videos for four years, and has just bought a house with no mortgage. I know 16-year-olds outside Ireland sponsored by clothing companies. One of the best-known videos, ‘Charlie bit my finger’ was uploaded by a family and has 450 million views.”

Other Irish YouTube stars are husband and wife team Anna Saccone and Jonathan Joly, based in Cork. Each day they upload a video of some aspect of their lives, from their wedding day to trips to the post office, and appearances on national television.

Anna has her own style diary, which has had more than 4.7 million views, while their wedding diary attracted more than 100,000 hits.

“Our show is not outrageous. We do mundane things that other people relate to. Life is super boring and we make it more interesting and more fun,” says Jonathan Joly. “Our videos are about 20 minutes long. So we shoot about 30 minutes in a 24-hour period, so we’re not showing as much as people might think. I have a production schedule which allows me to do it every day, seven days a week.”

The main audience for their show is outside Ireland, given the numbers of those interacting with YouTube here compared with the US. Joly estimates that a successful diary might get somewhere in the region of 60,000 views in Ireland, and of those only a few thousand will interact fully. The couple now have an agency in LA that handles the business side of their endeavour. The couple have no plans at present to launch their own show on a mainstream television channel.

“We’re tied into a distribution network in LA so when we upload stuff they have agents who look after the advertising. We make a decent living and you can do well off it.

“It took a while for us to explain to the parents what we do,” says Joly.

“It’s odd now, when I go to Tesco, some people will stop us and say ‘I love your show’. We probably have more online followers than 90 per cent of celebrities in Ireland and we did it without help from RTÉ or any other mainstream media.”

YouTube's partnerships

YouTube currently has up to 15,000 partners, and there are estimates that the number of those earning $1,000 a month is up about 300 per cent since 2010.

To be accepted as a YouTube partner, certain criteria must be met: content must be original, there must be ownership for the distribution of any clips, and potential partners need a large and growing audience. Some persons will earn up to €1 per 1,000 views while other deals pay every time an associated advertisement is clicked.

Online consultant Damien Mulley says: “You need stratospheric numbers to make a full-time living. My advice to anyone hoping to make money from it is that it is a slow build. The big thing is recognise your audience and always interact. You have to work the room.”