When Howard Davies-Carr uploaded a video clip of his two children to YouTube in 2007, little did he think it would become one of the most watched videos in the world. The clip, known as "Charlie bit my finger" has since garnered more than 810 million views and become a nice earner for the Davies-Carr family in the process.
You may have seen or heard of “Charlie bit my finger”, but you probably won’t be familiar with Felix Kjellberg. Yet, the 25-year-old Swedish gamer is the world’s biggest YouTube star. Better known by his online alias of PewDiePie, he has almost 35 million subscribers, and his videos have been viewed more than 7.9 billion times.
He is said to have a net worth of $12 million (€10 million) and last year Forbes magazine reported that the Swedish video blogger is pulling in $4 million a year from his hit YouTube channel. He is also part of a huge army of creators populating YouTube with clips of themselves playing video games and providing a running commentary, a movement called "Let's Play".
YouTube videos can be big business, and the content creators who have a huge following can easily reap six-figure sums. In some cases, the video-sharing site is creating a new breed of millionaire with many YouTube stars bringing out books, merchandise lines, doing appearances and starring in ads.
The most subscribed YouTube channel in Ireland is called JackSepticEye. You might never have heard of the gaming channel or the person behind it – 25-year-old Seán McLoughlin, but he has racked up more than 1 billion views. His channel has more than 3.2 million subscribers, and his videos receive almost 20,000 hits every day.
To put this in context, U2 have a little over 181,000 subscribers on YouTube and 39.7 million video views, RTÉ has about 142,000 subscribers and 120.3 million views, and Jedward have just over 83,000 subscribers and 46 million views.
So McLoughlin has more subscribers and videos views than U2, Jedward and RTÉ put together. Even if you added celebrity chef Donal Skeehan, the Rubberbandits and Sminky Shorts into the mix, McLoughlin would still have a higher view count and more subscribers.
Like PewDiePie, Athlone-based McLoughlin uploads clips of himself playing video games, along with a running commentary. He wears a Paddy cap, kicks of each video greeting his fans with “top of the morning to ya, laddies” and calls himself “the most high-energy videogame commentator on YouTube”.
“I’ve always like playing games and watching other people play games. I put up the first video in December 2012. I was doing voice impressions and it didn’t do well. I checked a few months ago and it was still on a few thousand views,” he says.
In September 2013 he had just 2,500 subscribers but in the months that followed, the channel started to take off.
McLoughlin began doing two videos per day last March. At the time he was studying hotel management in Athlone. He graduated last May and YouTube has been his full-time job since. “I started making money in January 2014. I make a good income and I’m with a good network. I’m contractually binded not to say what I earn.”
While he can’t say how much he pulls in for each video, he does say that no two videos earn the same. “I could have millions of view counts on two videos but earn very different amounts of money from each. It depends on the ads on them and how much they are watched,” he says.
McLoughlin got to meet the number 1 YouTuber in the world last year – PewDiePie – and the two have since become friends. In fact, it was a shout out – essentially a mention – on from PewDiePie in 2013 that kickstarted JackSepticEye’s meteoric rise. As with all stars though, McLoughlin isn’t free from negative attention. “I don’t think any channel of my size is free from negative attention. It was really hard to deal with at the start. You get used to it after a while and grow a thicker skin. I police my comments. I reply to lots of comments every day. People say I make them feel better.”
Like McLoughlin, David Nagle is another Irish gamer and YouTube star who largely makes “Let’s Play” videos.
Nagle is Ireland’s second most-popular YouTuber, going by the name Daithi De Nogla. He is a student at Tralee IT, but has deferred his studies to focus on YouTube.
“I had really slow growth initially. In my first year, which was 2012, I gained 10,000-15,000 subscriptions. I gain that in three days now,” he says. “In the summer of 2013 it started to pick up. Then it really took off in 2014. I passed one million subscriptions in July 2014.”
He says YouTube is only financially viable to live off if you get 1.5-2 million views per month. “If you live on your own, you would need more than that, probably 2-3 million views a month.”
While he can't talk monetary specifics, and everyone earns a different amount, he says on average a person could expect to earn about €1,200 per month if they were getting an average of a million views during that month. "You can partner with a network to get money or you can partner with Google. The only way to make money is to be with Google AdSense or a network. I partnered with a network back in 2012." (A network is similar to an agent in the YouTube world and promotes its clients).
He says another way to make money is through donations. “People can donate money to you. Some people do really well on donations. I think the donation model is absurd unless you are donating to smaller YouTubers.” He says each video takes an average of eight hours to make. He plays a game for four hours, and then spends four hours editing.
Make-up star Video may have killed the radio star, but it created the make-up star. Sinéad Cady’s video channel the Makeup Chair, is the fifth most subscribed to YouTube channel in Ireland. She has almost 600,000 subscribers and her videos have racked up more than 58 million views. “I make a pretty good living off YouTube. I’m quite shy so it’s good that I can be at home and work from here,” she says. Among other things the 26-year-old does five-step make-up tutorials, and each one gets between 100,000 and 200,000 views.
“I met my best friend through YouTube. She runs a channel called Makeupbysaz. Most people don’t know the ins and outs of YouTube so it’s nice to have people to relate to. “At the start I’d get sent the odd free product. Now I get sent stuff every single day. It’s often overwhelming.”
McLoughlin, Cady and Nagle have all become YouTube partners, which are YouTube members who have monetised videos with large view counts. The YouTube partner programme is aimed at regular uploaders with large audiences. It allows YouTubers to monetise content through advertising, paid subscriptions and merchandise.
Each time someone views, clicks on or watches a video-based ad on your YouTube Channel, you earn a little revenue. How much you earn depends on a variety of criteria, including the type of ad that’s seen or responded to by the viewer. “The more money you make, the more money the networks make, thus they want to get you out there and promote you,” Cady says.
Irish YouTuber Melanie Murphy says income from YouTube can vary from month to month. As a result, it’s good to have other income streams. Speaking at an Irish Creators Day at Google’s European HQ, she is making money from TV work as well as the video-sharing site.
“When I was coming out of college, I was just about making enough to not go on the dole. I thus decided to try it full-time. You have to look into other avenues of income on top of your views. It is an unstable amount – you never know how much you’re going to get.”
Another source of money can be by doing deals with well-known brands. However, McLoughlin warns against doing too many. “Some game companies will come to you and ask you to play their game for a lot of money . . . be careful not to do too many branded deals. People will think you are only doing videos for the money.”
Marenco Kemp, head of online partnerships (EMEA) at YouTube, says there are now thousands of YouTube stars worldwide making six-figure sums.
“When they join a partner programme, they can make money from the start. It’s a revenue share. The YouTubers get the majority and we take a cut”.
With YouTube now the second-biggest search engine in the world, after Google, he says creators, including Irish YouTubers, are fast gaining global attention.
“Sixty per cent of views for most channels worldwide come from outside the originating country. The creators are all developing international audiences.”