Why Is Traditional Media Still Obsessed With YouTubers' Money?

16 September 2015, 17:23 | Updated: 17 July 2017, 12:11

We the Unicorns

By Liam Dryden

Today, I'm going to reveal some crazy insider info about the YouTube world; I'm dropping some knowledge that might rock you and the entire media industry to its core, and nobody can stop me. Are you ready? I hope you're sitting down for this. It's a major scoop too, so get a pen ready.

Through a mixture of advertising revenue, paid endorsements and merchandising, some YouTubers can get paid from their videos.

I know, mind-blowing.

Ever since Google launched the Partner Program in 2008, money has been a pretty prominent concept in the world of YouTube. Some creators might earn a few hundred dollars of ad revenue a year, as a perk for doing something they enjoy; while others are literal millionaires who, through viral success, brand deals and merchandise, have become household brand names.

Of course, everyone already knows all of this. It's not news. YouTubers have become a lot more transparent about the way the money rolls in, to the point where even casual viewers are unfazed.

And yet, every time an event happens within the YouTube community that's large enough to break beyond the bubble of social media and grab the attention of mainstream news outlets, a dozen traditional publications will spend half the story prattling on about "these millennial celebs you've never heard of", make fun of their teenage audiences, and then obsess about their money.

Gaming giant PewDiePie was aggressively placed under the world news' microscope earlier this year, after it was revealed that he earned over $7 million in 2014. The viral nature of this story was so intense that Felix had to address it on his channel, talking about his rapid rise to fame, the commercial success that came with it, and other people's apparent obsession with his bank statement.

The fallout from this discussion apparently had some staying power, as it was still on the minds of many major news outlets over a month later. This year's Summer in the City, the UK's largest YouTuber event, was held in August in London's ExCeL centre. With a sold-out capacity of 10,000, the scale and nature of the event caught the eye of traditional media outlets like ITV, Sky News and the BBC; the latter of which interviewed organiser Tom Burns and guest creator TomSka. The segment is sadly no longer available, but according to the interviewees, the lengthy answers they gave the Beeb were... slightly less represented in the final result.

Here was an opportunity for a major TV news outlet to highlight literally any other facet of the event - the packed main stage for unknown acts, the lengthy panels on industry and community (of which there were four per hour), or even the crowds of hyperactive fans bonding over a shared love of a creator in the meet & greet lines. But nah, let's remind the world that there's profit in this for some reason. Also, this headline from their junior brand was equally baffling.

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No other professional in any field has to repeatedly justify their earnings in this way; not even others who work in the public eye. Actors, pop stars, footballers and even reality TV personalities with fanbases half as engaged as one of the top subscribed YouTube channels can earn three times as much, and somehow it doesn't warrant a headline. And yet a literal decade after the site's launch, print media is still insistent on patronising creators, their fans and even their own readership by harping on about how "there's gold in that there newfangled YouTube thing".

It's boring, it's antiquated, in some cases it's a straight-up invasion of privacy - in case you forgot, the Daily Mail published (since removed) photos of the inside, outside and location of Zoella and Alfie's new home in Brighton earlier this year, just because the story of a YouTuber buying a Ł1 million house was just too juicy to afford them any privacy - but more than anything, it's just not news.

There have been some ham-fisted thoughtpiece-y attempts to spin the money discussion into the idea that these creators are bad role models for kids, because something something YouTube ads for Haribo something something. But if young people's role models are composed of young entrepreneurs earning their millions armed with a video camera and an innate ability to genuinely connect with people, then a medium that attempts to derail that genuineness with scare tactics should feel very, very threatened.

The need to define everything new and strange by the money that surrounds it is an archaic concept that print media clings to - it'll be fun to see how long that sinking ship stays afloat.