Each year, YouTube videos receive more than one trillion views.
Each month, YouTube is visited by over 800 million unique users.
Each day, 4 billion videos are viewed on YouTube.
And while 60 hours of video are uploaded every minute, there’s a select group of people uploading YouTube videos whose videos have risen above the rest. As they gain millions of subscribers, they also earn millions of dollars – all for maintaining a YouTube channel.
Below, I’ve listed the top 10 YouTube channels based on the number subscribers, as of November 2, 2012. I’ve also done gone into depth, to explain why these YouTuber’s have become so popular and the techniques that they’ve used to make money and get rich with their YouTube videos.
Total Video Views: 484,011,920
Kyle Myers started FPSRussia on April 19, 2010 and has already posted 100 videos – about one every nine days. The videos feature Myers demonstrating a wide range of firearms and explosives on his family farm in Georgia.
To keep things interesting, Myers assumes the name Dimitri Potapoff and a heavy Russian accent. He’ll shoot at some interesting targets like zombie mannequins, “watermelon people”, and images of Justin Bieber.
How FPSRussia Gets Views:
FPSRussia excels largely because it has a clearly defined niche (people who like “GUNS & EXPLOSIVES”) and it’s simply the best channel for those people on YouTube. Myers is knowledgeable about his weapons and has a seemingly endless supply of things that go “boom” (e.g. automatic shotguns, sniper rifles, and even a full-sized tank).
The videos feature impressive production quality and a sleek, five second animated introduction with theme music.
FPSRussia has also collaborated with other popular YouTube channels in order to share audiences and gain more subscribers (by lawrence). The most notable example is this June 19, 2011 video with Epic Meal Time which has garnered over 6 million views and features Myers “tenderizing” a piece of meat with his pistol.
FPSRussia is likely earning over $100,000 per year just from views. But Myers has also achieved a secondary revenue stream by selling custom apparel on Spreadshirt. To raise awareness about the shirts and hoodies, Myers wears his shirts in the videos.
#9 Epic Meal Time
Total Video Views: 468,697,450
Top Video: http://youtu.be/m9FRSghXhDM
“We make your dreams come true, and then we eat them.”
Hailing from Canada, Epic Meal Time has been delivering a weekly dose of bacon since September 2010. Each show features host Harley Mortenstein and friends cooking ridiculous meals with fast food, liquor, and – yes – heaps of bacon.
Their absurd concoctions include “Fast Food Lasagna”, “Candy Pizza”, and “Meat Cereal.” Watching them create and consume these monstrosities is pretty hilarious as long as you can stomach loads of grease, cheese, and calories.
How Epic Meal Time gets Views:
Something as audacious as Epic Meal Time is capable of generating a big viral buzz. After its initial surge, major press attention followed. The Winnipeg Free Press, CBS News, and The Huffington Post all spotlighted EMT shortly after the YouTube channel was started.
Media attention culminated when Epic Meal Time was interviewed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on March 17, 2011. For the show, they created a variation on a shepherd’s pie that was shaped like a car. They also performed a live show at Comic Con 2011.
Web interest for Epic Meal Time has fallen significantly in the last year, which may suggest that the Internet has a limited appetite for epic meals.
Epic Meal Time takes a gluttonous approach to monetization. They’ve got a line of branded t-shirts, an Epic Meal Time video game app, and they delve into affiliate marketing on their website. A television show and a cookbook are in the works too.
Co-creators Harley Mortenstein and Sterling Toth have both quit their day jobs to focus on Epic Meal Time full time.
Total Video Views: 760,321,374
Top Video: http://youtu.be/_NLXlZivlyA
Shane Dawson got his start on YouTube in high school, when he and his friends would turn in videos instead of traditional homework assignments. Since starting the channel in March 2008, Shane has uploaded 215 videos (about one every eight days). In 2010, Shane was recognized by Forbes as the 25th most famous web celebrity.
Now 24, Shane primarily produces YouTube comedy sketches starring him as a colorful cast of off-color characters, including Shanaynay, Ned the Nerd, S. Deezy, and Aunt Hilda. He also spoofs popular music videos and television shows.
How Shane Dawson TV gets Views:
YouTube is most popular with kids, teenagers, and young people – and that’s exactly the niche that Shane Dawson TV fits into. Many of Shane’s videos piggyback on the popularity of trending keywords for youth, like “Justin Bieber”, “Taylor Swift”, “Overly Attached Girlfriend”, and “Slender Man”.
He’s also a frequent collaborator with other YouTube personalities.
Like many of the YouTubers on this list, Shane has started a couple of companion channels (“My 2nd Channel” and “My iPhone Channel”) to broaden his influence and total number of views.
Shane also sells t-shirts through Spreadshirt and he sells original music through Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes.
Total Video Views: 2,893,039,285
Top Video: http://youtu.be/U0CGsw6h60k
VEVO is an online music syndication platform featuring music by three of the “big four” major record labels: Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and EMI. Rihanna is a Barbadian R&B singer who’s signed with Def Jam (owned by Universal) and she happens to be the most subscribed VEVO artist on YouTube and the only one in YouTube’s top ten.
The RihannaVEVO channel features Rihanna’s songs, music videos, “lyric videos” (songs accompanies by animated lyrics), remixes, and behind the scenes Rihanna footage.
How RihannaVEVO gets Views:
Rihanna first rose to fame in 2005 the release of her debut album Music of the Sun. She’s a Grammy-winner and a perennial chart-topper worldwide. RihannaVEVO is viewed and subscribed so much because Rihanna has an active community of fans who love her music and want to listen on YouTube.
There are some benefits to being part of the VEVO network and Rihanna’s new music videos will occasionally be promoted on the channels of other popular, related artists.
With nine videos over 100 million views, Rihanna’s videos average many more views than any other channel on this list. Rihanna has earned VEVO millions of dollars in advertising revenue.
The channel also directs people buy Rihanna’s upcoming album Unapologetic online and sign up for Rihanna’s email list.
Total Video Views: 1,506,092,196
Top Video: http://youtu.be/evDAi77IDhY
CollegeHumor is a comedy website that was launched in 1999 and today attracts more than 15 million monthly unique visitors.
While the website features content from all over the web, including videos, CollegeHumor started a YouTube channel for all their original video content. There’s a lot of it: their NYC-based team has churned out over 1,000 videos.
The videos span everything from one-off sketches to animated videos to series like “Jake and Amir” and “Hardly Working.”
How CollegeHumor gets Views:
CollegeHumor’s YouTube channel started out with a built in audience, platform, and staff of video creators thanks to the success of CollegeHumor.com.
Their racy content has also given them a leg up with traffic. Looking through CollegeHumor’s top 30 videos (all of which have at least 5 million views) a theme emerges: 15 of the videos have sexually suggestive titles or post images.
Sex sells – particularly with CollegeHumor’s primary audience of “childless, moderately educated men under the age of 35 who browse from school and home” (from Alexa).
CollegeHumor has made close to $1.5 million from advertising on YouTube alone. But they’re making additional money by premiering all of their videos on their own site one month before releasing them to the masses on YouTube. That means they get 100% of the revenue from advertising and more control over the user experience.
Like most on this list, they’re in the t-shirt business too. But they’ve taken it one stop further and actually partnered with an online clothing website, BustedTees.
Total Video Views: 733,286,546
Top Video: http://youtu.be/CyCyzB0CedM
With a degree from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, Freddie Wong is the most technically savvy video producer on this list. Since February 2006, he’s uploaded 142 videos to his YouTube channel freddiew.
The action-packed special effects here are just a hair below Hollywood standards, but the videos are mostly meant to be funny. Many are spoofs or “real life” versions of popular videogames like Portal, Mario Kart, and SkyRim.
How Freddiew gets Views:
Freddie’s videos have featured the biggest YouTubers around, including Smosh, Ray William Johnson, and Harley Mortenstein from Epic Meal Time.
These collaborations have surely amounted to 100,000’s of cross-pollinating subscribers, but Wong has gone even further and recruited full-on celebrities to start in his videos. Eliza Dushku and Jon Favreau have both brought attention to Freddiew by acting in videos on the channel.
In 2010, Wong was hired by McDonald’s to make a commercial with fellow YouTube star Joe Penna, of MysterGuitarMan. In 2011, Electronic Arts hired him to produce and act in a TV commercial for the Battlefield 3 videogame.
The popularity of the channel attracts clients to Wong’s business, Overcrank Media, which specializes in feature film and video content.
Total Video Views: 3,762,099,896
Top Video: http://youtu.be/cRdxXPV9GNQ
“Machinima is the number one video entertainment network for gamers around the world, featuring gameplay videos, trailers, original series, livestreams, and the most up-to-date news for the gamer generation.”
If you like videogames, Machinima is probably your favorite YouTube channel.
How Machinima gets Views:
Machinima is a great example of the power of the niche. First, they tap into a huge, worldwide fanbase of devoted gamers. Within that they offer playlists that will appeal to fans of particular games or genres.
Machinima has launched several other channels targeted at smaller niches within their overall gamer niche. Examples include Machinima Sports (all sports games) and Machinima Realm (for MMOs and RPGs). Each of these channels boast subscriber-counts in the hundreds of thousands.
In addition to t-shirts and iPhone apps, Machinima sells skins for their viewers to put on their videogame consoles.
They also leverage their millions of devoted viewers (who are largely in the coveted 18-34 male demographic) to promote game releases… at a price. At the time of this article, the Machinima YouTube channels background was an advertisement for Wreck it Ralph, a gaming-centric Disney movie.
Total Video Views: 1,805,990,512
Top Video: http://youtu.be/2uJE48aKVNo
Starting on November 19, 2005, Smosh is almost as old as YouTube itself and is the oldest channel on this list. Every Friday, comedy duo Ian Hecox (24) and Anthony Padilla (25) upload a new comedy video, likely parodying the latest pop culture phenomenon.
How Smosh gets Views:
Smosh’s success started when one of their first videos, “Pokemon Theme Music Video”, went viral way back in 2005. Though the video was little more than Hecox and Padilla lip-syncing to the theme song to Pokemon anime, it garnered 24.7 million views and was the most-viewed video on YouTube for a period of about six months.
Eventually the video was removed for copyright infringement, but Smosh already had a subscriber base and momentum. They built on their Pokemon fans by making a series of videos called Pokemon in Real Life and have also made videos around the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Legend of Zelda franchises.
In 2012, they’ve sought to expand their audience by starting three new channels: Smosh Games (videogame-related), Shut Up! Cartoons (animated), and El Smosh (Spanish language).
Smosh was tapped to be one of the YouTube’s very first partners way back in 2007. They’ve made over one million dollars from ad revenue since then. They also sell merchandise through District Lines and sell their music on iTunes.
Barry Blumberg, a former Disney executive, took an interest in the young Smosh duo early on and signed a deal to become a partner in Smosh. He’s helped them grow Smosh as a business, which meant hiring a staff and building a website in 2008. In 2011 Smosh was acquired by teen media powerhouse Alloy Digital, LLC.
Total Video Views: 1,346,455,881
Top Video: http://youtu.be/xfeys7Jfnx8
Nigahiga is the YouTube channel of Ryan Higa, who at 22 years old is the youngest YouTuber on this list. Ryan first started making low-fi video skits with a few friends back in 2006, just as a way to share a laughs with the rest of his high school.
But early videos like “How to be Gangster” and “How to be Ninja” took off and the silly YouTube videos eventually became a full-time job for Ryan Higa. The channel has come a long way and now it includes comedic original music videos along with traditional vlogs and sketches.
How Nigahiga gets Views:
The success of Nigahiga lies in the personality of Ryan Higa. He’s an unpretentious everyman that viewers feel a real connection with. He’s funny too. Still, it’s difficult to fathom what sets Nigahiga so far apart from the rest of the YouTube crowd and justifies its place as #2 most subscribed overall.
International brands have seen Nigahiga’s millions of subscribers as an opportunity to reach a wider audience and Higa has been willing to cash in. He’s made videos raising awareness for Carl’s Jr. Restaurants, The Google Nexus One, and the film Despicable Me.
Video Views: 2,038,359,848
Top Video: http://youtu.be/K2oLoBpFmho
“I’m an alcoholic garden gnome with a taste for comic books and hip-hop music. I’ve also been known to produce a few successful shows.”
In the fall of 2007, as an undergraduate student at Columbia University, Ray William Johnson would take study breaks by watching YouTube videos. He observed that people mostly went to YouTube to watch either viral videos or vlogs… and that’s when he had the idea to combine the two.
Equals Three is Johnson’s thrice-weekly YouTube show in which he spotlights (and lampoons) viral videos. Each episode contains three trending YouTube videos and averages about five minutes in length.
How RayWilliamJohnson get Views:
Johnson’s content is always fresh and funny because he gets it directly from videos that are already going viral on YouTube. People subscribe to his channel in droves because he filters through trending videos and presents them in a way to get maximum laughs.
Johnson explained his humble path to 6,000,000 subscribers to Forbes:
“There’s an abundance of what some would call overnight success on YouTube and on the internet in general, but that’s not the way it worked out for me. With each episode I’d release, I would try to evolve in a way so that each episode was an improvement on the last. Yet, I would keep the same format of each episode in place so as not to disenchant my core audience. With this, I’d hoped that the size of my audience would increase by a small fraction, say 0.05%, per episode and would eventually add up to much larger numbers over a long period of time.”
Equals Three has expanded its audience further by allowing A-list celebrity comedians to guest host it, including Robin Williams, Kevin Smith, Kal Penn, and many more. In exchange for hosting the show, they get a chance to promote their own YouTube channels.
Ray William Johnson is as notable for the way that he doesn’t make money as he is for how he does make money:
“Please note that I am NOT interested in doing commercial brand deals or product endorsements. I make Youtube videos because I love performing and entertaining, not because I care to make money.”
Johnson told Forbes, “Most product placements detract from that entertainment experience.” He recognizes that his millions of subscribers trust him to deliver quality, entertaining content and that he would be jeopardizing the value of his channel by “selling out” and using it to endorse products.
For now, Ray makes plenty of money by selling t-shirts on his site and raking in millions in ad revenue from his two billion videos.