If you ask many “old” people (read over 30) who PewDiePie is, many will be scratching their heads. Yet, to his YouTube subscriber base of predominantly male teenagers, he is an internet sensation. Moreover, his fortune has matched his fame. He has established influencer status with his audience, and as such PewDiePie’s Net Worth has steadily risen since he created his YouTube channel in 2010.
So who is PewDiePie, and how much does PewDiePie make - at least what is the “best guess” by the pundits? Also, considering that he has a habit of immersing himself in controversy such as a recent incident involving anti-semitic videos, can he continue his stellar rise to YouTube success?
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Who is PewDiePie?
In the real, non-pixilated world of Sweden, PewDiePie is better known as Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg and was born on 24th October 1989. He grew up in a professional family who encouraged him to take a degree in Industrial Economics and Technology Management at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden.
However, young Felix grew bored with his studies, preferring to make films rather than write essays. He created a YouTube account in 2010, initially in the name of “PewDie”, and then after losing the login details to that account started again with a new account, adding the “Pie” to the end and thus creating the name he would soon be known to the world as - PewDiePie.
Eventually, he spent more time filmmaking than studying, so he dropped out of university. To fund his filmmaking and living expenses, he sold Photoshop artwork and worked at a hot dog stand. At that point, PewDiePie’s Net Worth would have been very little. His parents were, apparently horrified by the direction their son's life had taken and made it clear that he was expected to support his lifestyle. See our Tribute to PewDiePie here.
The typical PewDiePie video shows him gameplaying, providing a commentary as he plays. He describes his videos as "sharing gaming moments on YouTube with my bros."
The Early Days of PewDiePie’s Video Channel
He enjoyed success with his channel from his early days and already had 60,000 subscribers by the end of 2011. MoneyNation has estimated his Net Worth over his YouTube career, and they calculate that PewDiePie’s Net Worth was $18.7 million by 2011 - not bad for a university dropout making a few videos!
He reached 1 million subscribers in 2012. At the time it must have seemed to be a huge achievement. In time, this number was to be well and truly dwarfed.
PewDiePie initially signed up with the multi-channel network, Machinima, but felt unhappy with their performance, feeling neglected by the company, despite being well on the way to being YouTube’s most subscribed channel.
Before long he jumped ship to the Maker Studios network, which was later taken over by Disney. However, it seems that his relationship with Disney was already on a shaky footing as far back as 2014 and recently came to a sticky end in February 2017.
The Superstar Days for PewDiePie
It was in 2013 that PewDiePie’s YouTube success really took off. He reached 5 million subscribers in February of that year, and people began to take note of his success. The New York Times even profiled him, although, at that stage, he was just one of six YouTubers featured in the article. Four years later, in 2017, he was receiving whole articles in the New York Times devoted to him alone.
By July 2013 he had the second most subscribed channel on YouTube.
It only took one further month before he had that coveted Number 1 spot, overtaking the then-leader, Smosh. According to the Wall Street Journal's estimates, PewDiePie made $4 million in 2013. By the end of that year, he had reached 19 million subscribers.
Twelve months later, he had reached 33 million subscribers, and during 2014 he had 4.1 billion video views. According to Money Nations’ estimates, PewDiePie’s Net Worth skyrocketed to $55 million that year.
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By September 2015 his YouTube channel became the first to receive 10 billion video views. He made an appearance the next month in Forbes list of Richest YouTube Stars (a feat he repeated the following year). By the Forbes estimates, he received $12 million in 2015. According to Money Nation, this helped increase his Net Worth to $68 million.
In 2016 PewDiePie released a Scare PewDiePie series for YouTube’s subscription service, YouTube Red. This was obviously yet another source of his income for him. In December his main channel became the first YouTube channel to reach 50 million subscribers. Money Nation continued their best-guess calculations of his Net Worth and put it at a whopping $90 million in 2016 - 2.5 times that of Hillary Clinton, although “only” a third of Miley Cyrus’ Net Worth.
Time magazine included PewDiePie in their list of 100 Most Influential People in 2016. He is certainly an influencer to his audience, in all meanings of the term.
It has not been all plain sailing for PewDiePie, however. He had public spats with YouTube in 2016 over disappearing subscribers and threatened to delete his channel. Ultimately he deleted a subsidiary channel that he ran.
More recently he has had problems due to the controversial nature of some of his videos, and in particular, a joke that backfired. These controversies and the flak that came from them will undoubtedly slow his money-making machine for a while. He paid a couple of non-English speaking Indians on Fiverr to display the message “Death to All Jews” as a joke within one of his videos.
The anti-Semitic message, despite being intended as a joke, did not go down well with his sponsors, Google, and his network. Disney-owned Maker Network felt he was no long a good fit for them and severed all ties with him. Google dropped him from their Google Preferred advertising program and canceled the Scare PewDiePie YouTube Red series.
As a result, PewDiePie is no longer attached to any multi-channel network. This is likely to reduce his earnings, at least for the short-term.
Lessons for Brands
One side-effect of PewDiePie's recent troubles has been the sudden realization by brands that they only have limited control over influencers. Influencers, particularly those who possess the most clout, will not necessarily tow a company line. They are not employees - often they are as famous as a brand itself is - at last with a particular market or niche audience. Any brands working with an influencer are putting themselves in the influencer’s hands.
Hence, any company that worked with PewDiePie should not have been surprised by his offbeat, risk-taking humor - that is what made him famous in the first place. “I make videos for my audience,” PewDiePie says. “I think of the content that I create as entertainment, and not a place for any serious political commentary. Though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive.”
By removing PewDiePie from the Google Preferred List, YouTube has made it easier for brands to opt not to have their ads displayed on his videos. Of course, those brands who strongly target non-PC teen males (his target audience) will still undoubtedly let their ads run.
Clearly, brands wanting to be part of influencer marketing need to ensure that they select influencers that both target their type of audience and who have relatively similar values to themselves.
PewDiePie’s Other Earnings
According to Money Nation, PewDiePie’s earnings over the years from his YouTube views is $114 million. While this is, of course, a sizeable figure, it only tells part of the story of the PewDiePie money machine.
He has also made nearly $42 million from merchandise earnings, and an estimated $5.8 million purely from investment income. There is a whole range of merchandise products available from tee shirts to hats to hoodies. He even wrote and published a book in 2015 which instantly reached the Number 1 position for young adult readers on the New York Times Bestseller List. He also released a mobile game downloaded in huge numbers by his fanbase.
Of course, this high level of income puts him in the top tax bracket, which in Sweden is over 50% per year (although the Money Nation calculations use the top UK tax rate of 45%).
The Money Nation estimates give PewDiePie an average salary of $12 million per year, which equates to an hourly rate for a 40-hour week of $3.400 per hour. Not bad for a university dropout whose parents wanted him to get a safe job. Safe jobs like doctors, who received $94 per hour on average, teachers, $28, and software engineers on $37 per hour, somehow just don’t compare.