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20 July 2017

Celebrity 2.0 

Young people doing stupid things? Nothing new there.

Today, though, social media has amplified the impact of such antics, redefining what it means to be a celebrity – and what some people will do to become one.

While such fame was once largely reserved for singers, actors and athletes, many YouTubers are now among the highest echelons of celebrity. Far from its roots as the main hub for amateur home videos, YouTube is now the modern-day equivalent of television.

Consider that the highest-paid YouTuber, known as PewDiePie, has some 50 million subscribers and earned over $15 million last year alone. In fact, in the 12 months ending June 2016, the top 12 internet celebrities earned a combined $70.5 million, a 23% increase from the previous year.

Those pinnacle YouTubers each boast hundreds millions of viewers who regularly watch their content. With such impressive audiences, it should come as no surprise that there is much more than just fame and fortune in being a viral sensation; there’s power, too.

With so many people watching videos on the social media platform – YouTube claims 1.5 billion unique user visits each month – companies are increasingly capitalizing on the mass visibility attainable for products and brands through sponsorship of viral videos.

Although YouTube celebrities monetize videos through pre-roll advertisements, the big money is in integrating sponsors into content – the latter-day equivalent of product placement. Indeed, companies now pay top YouTubers tens of thousands of dollars for just a brief mention of their product.

These online superstars are invaluable not just to companies looking to profit from sponsorship; social media platforms themselves rely heavily on the traffic celebrities provide.

Facebook, for instance, has been pushing its video content in an attempt to challenge YouTube, offering content creators new video ad programs and introducing an app that makes videos appear more professional – not a bad incentive considering that top-quality videos with professional-level production values cost anywhere from $25,000-75,000 to produce.

Although YouTube’s revenue-sharing typically provides the bigger payout, many of these online celebrities are nevertheless turning their focus to Facebook, and this is no coincidence. The company has paid as much as $220,000 to top YouTube stars to produce content exclusive to Facebook Live.

Where once the tail of online video wagged the dog of traditional television and other popular visual formats, evolving social media will continue to redefine the meaning of celebrity, as well as its corollaries: fame and fortune.