It’s hard to believe YouTube was only launched a little over a decade ago, but the video sharing platform is now an integral part of daily life for many people. YouTube is a go-to source for content of all types, from entertainment to news to education.
YouTube is a place where distinct personalities can shine, as users have total control over their own content and are able to freely share home made videos to a massive user base with almost no production costs. The concept of YouTube celebrities is the internet trend of the moment, and rather than browsing through individual viral videos, more and more people are following individual content creators on channels that can have millions of subscribers.
YouTube celebrities use their comedic personalities or their incredible talents to create a specific brand, each specializing in a specific type of content that viewers are hungry for. As an incentive to keep these brilliant content creators returning to their site rather than turning to conventional entertainment channels like film and television, YouTube allows members to take a percentage of the advertising dollars the website makes from its viewers. For individuals with millions of subscribers, this can translate into billions of individual views and a huge payday.
These 15 YouTube celebrities have grown their individual brands into media channels with massive viewer bases. By cashing in their earnings from YouTube itself as well as diversifying into products and merchandise they can sell to viewers, these 15 YouTube celebrities make seven figure salaries.
15. Dude Perfect: $1.5 million (estimated)
These five guys have perfected the trick shot video, with 9 million subscribers and an increasingly elaborate collection of absurdly difficult shots with golf balls, Nerf balls, ping pong balls, and more. Many of these trick shots use giant Rube Goldberg machines, contraptions set up to cause a massive chain reaction. It’s hard to decide what’s more impressive, their creativity in staging these trick shots or their ability to hit impossibly precise targets from far away. Recently their videos have included sponsorship from sports equipment brands as well as other products like Pringles. That, in addition to an upcoming television show produced by the people behind Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory, has turned these “dudes” into unlikely millionaires.
14. PrankvsPrank: $2.26 million (estimated)
This YouTube power couple has managed to make a living out of their habit of playing pranks on each other. After 178 prank videos, it’s a wonder these two are still together, but now they mostly play their pranks on unsuspecting strangers. They have also been maintaining a daily video blog since 2009, with a total of over 2.5 billion views and a current total of 8.7 million subscribers. Most recently they’ve taken their pranking skills professional through their own YouTube Red series, Prank Academy. Since one of their first viral pranks in 2012, which involved a sushi roll and a bottle of hot sauce 1000 times hotter than Tabasco, this couple has created a multi-million dollar video empire.
13. Rosanna Pansino: $2.5 million
Rosanna Pansino is probably responsible for many of the baked goods that appear on your Facebook page or Tumblr Dashboard, thanks to her “Nerdy Nummies” cooking show. Pansino has somehow managed to make a media empire out of Star Wars themed cookies and Breaking Bad “meth” candy among other things. Her YouTube channel has 5 million viewers and frequently features collaborations with other YouTubers like Grace Helbig and Markiplier, and her cookbook, released late last year, became a New York Times bestseller. While her bubbly personality doesn’t appeal to everyone, she’s a great example of building a brand out of a YouTube personality.
12. Roman Atwood: $2.5 million
Roman Atwood is one of the main players in the phenomenon of YouTube pranks, in which he stages and films elaborate stunts to trick unsuspecting strangers. Atwood’s prank videos have millions of views each, some of which are innocent (in one of his most popular he fills his entire house with plastic balls) and some of which are downright twisted (in a recent video he made his wife believe his son had died in a fiery ATV crash). Atwood has 8 million views on his main channel, as well a daily video blog with another 6 million.
11. Lilly Singh: $2.5 million
Lilly Singh, aka IISuperwomanII, first went viral during the trend of “Sh*t ___ Say” videos with “Sh*t Punjabi Mothers Say” and “Sh*t Punjabi Fathers Say,” where she imitated her traditional Saini Sikh parents. Singh’s Punjabi heritage often comes into play in her videos, where she pokes fun at stereotypes about Indian people (“The Difference Between Brown Girls and White Girls”) and other women (“How Girls Get Ready”). Singh has used her YouTube persona to launch a world tour of motivational speaking and stand up comedy, all documented in the film A Trip to Unicorn Island which recently premiered on YouTube Red and earned her an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
10. Germán Garmendia: $3 million (estimated)
If you haven’t heard of “Germán Garmendia,” that’s likely because this Chilean musician and comedian makes videos only in Spanish, but his 27 million viewers make him the most popular Spanish speaking YouTuber in the world. Vlogging under the name “Hola Soy German,” Garmienda’s videos follow the familiar, fast-talking style of other YouTube stars like Pewdiepie. His videos may be even more fascinating to English speaking viewers, as he often switches between different “characters,” changing wigs and clothes in what seem to be conversations with himself.
9. Michelle Phan: $3 million
Michelle Phan helped to popularize YouTube makeup tutorials, most famously imitating the makeup from Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video. Phan is a classic YouTube success story, using her viral popularity to launch a line of Bob Ross inspired cosmetics tutorials with a soft spoken and meditative style. That success has led her into a career as Lancôme’s official video make-up artist, as well as launching her own cosmetics line and video channel, ICON. As someone who took her initial success with creating entertaining videos, and then used her audience as a base of customers and expanding into creating her own products, is a standout example of a YouTube entrepreneur.
8. Rhett + Link: $4.5 million
Rhett and Link, best friends since first grade, are a comedy duo behind viral sensations like the “Official Ojai Valley Taxidermy” commercial (which coined the phrase “Nope! Chuck Testa”) and the song “My OCD.” The pair specializes in sponsored music videos from corporations like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and SleepBetter.org; videos which went viral in their own right for their creative editing and video techniques, while allowing them to make a steady living on YouTube. Most recently Rhett and Link have been focused on their daily video channel Good Mythical Morning, which is its own channel with over 10 million subscribers on top of the 5 million subscribers on their original channel.
7. KSI: $4.5 million
Olajide Olatunji, an English entertainer who makes videos under the name KSIOlajideBT (or KSI for short) is a great example of someone who has grown their internet personality far beyond what they were initially recognized for. KSI initially began making videos of himself playing and commentating the FIFA games in 2008, and while he is still primarily known for FIFA gameplay, he has expanded into other games like Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat with his trademark loud and profanity-laced reactions. KSI has also expanded into vlogging and rapping, and thanks to his 12 million subscribers, his music videos also have view counts in the millions.
6. CaptainSparklez: $4.8 million (estimated)
Jordan Maron, a.k.a. CaptainSparklez, is the king of Minecraft Let’s Play videos. Maron makes his living by recording and commentating videos of himself playing the popular open-world sandbox game, as well as live streaming his gameplay on Twitch.tv. Maron also co-authored the three official Minecraft handbooks, and sells official merchandise like t-shirts and sunglasses. While he is known as a Minecraft player, videos of himself playing other games like Trials Evolution and Call of Duty have also been viewed millions of times. Since dropping out of college to pursue streaming full-time, CaptainSparklez has racked up 1.9 billion views on his YouTube channel and is currently living in a $4.5-million dollar mansion in the Hollywood Hills.
5. Lindsey Stirling: $6 million
Violin virtuoso Lindsey Stirling is no doubt the most unlikely person to appear on a list of top internet personalities, but the performer has created a mega-popular brand out of one of the world’s most boring instruments. While the violin might call up images of quiet concert halls or uptight classical performers, Stirling uses the instrument as a backbone for catchy, modern electronic tracks. What’s more is that Stirling choreographs and performs in elaborate videos to accompany each track, placing the violinist in a Wild West inspired town, a snowy landscape, and a clear mountain stream among others locations. Her video for Crystallize, which defines itself as “Dubstep Violin,” has 146 million views.
4. Markiplier: Up to $8 million (estimated)
This YouTuber specializes in comedic Let’s Play videos and runs the 24th most subscribed channel on YouTube, with 4 billion total views and 12 million subscribers. Markiplier is a part of the Maker Studios network, a producer of YouTube channels that was recently bought by Disney Interactive. Earlier this year hackers targeted Markiplier and received access to his Maker Studios account, posting screenshots that reflected a total of $665,820.16 in earnings for just the month of November 2015. Markiplier is more than just a video game personality though, as he has made appearances in TV shows like Disney’s Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything and Jimmy Kimmel Live.
3. The Fine Bros: $8.5 million
While The Fine Bros recently took a serious hit to their subscriber count after a misguided attempt to patent their trademark style of video made headlines in the internet community, their React channel still maintains close to six million subscribers with their videos regularly going viral. The Fine Bros specialize in “React” videos, which expose people to unfamiliar subjects and cut together the best responses. A recent videos had senior citizens reacting to Rihanna’s famously explicit “Work” video, or kids reacting to Donald Trump. Like them or hate them, The Fine Bros have perfected an addictive formula that will likely only continue to grow in popularity.
2. Smosh: $8.5 million
Smosh, the comedy duo of Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla, were internet celebrities that actually predate YouTube. The pair began posting flash animations on Newgrounds.com in 2003 before becoming early adopters of YouTube in 2005, and quickly becoming one of the site’s most popular channels. Smosh has been the most subscribed YouTube channel at three different points in its history and has racked up a total view count of over 5 billion. The duo specializes in videos like “If Teens Ruled the World” that imagine a comedic alternate universe, and “Every Superhero Ever” which lampoons common traits of superhero films. Last year Smosh even released a full length film, featuring other YouTube stars like Jenna Marbles and Markiplier.
1. PewDiePie: $12 million
Swedish comedian Felix Kjellberg is one of the most recognizable YouTube stars today, thanks in part to his appearance on a recent episode of South Park that parodied the phenomenon of “Let’s Play” videos. Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie, has grown an audience of 43 million subscribers primarily through playing and commentating video games like Minecraft. Recently PewDiePie launched “Scare PewDiePie,” a flagship series for the new subscription service YouTube Red in which he participates in Fear Factor-like challenges. His channel has also expanded into weekly vlogs that regularly rack up over 2 million views, as well as animations, food challenges, and reaction videos.