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Can You Make a Living on YouTube? If You're One of the Top 1000 Channels Making $23,000/Mo You Can

06.22.13 @ 9:00AM Tags : , , , , , ,

YouTube logoIn the late 90s, it seems like everyone had a startup, but no one, especially the media giants, knew exactly how they were going to make money off this new thing called the Internet. Would there be a machine next to your computer that accepted quarters, à la those massaging beds you see in movies but have never seen in real life? Would it come from subscription fees, like the old AOL model? It turns out the answer was ads, mostly, and with its model, individual users can earn quite a bit of money with their YouTube videos. An infographic shows how at least one segment of the internet is making its scratch, moolah, bread, cab fare, etc. Click below to check out how much sweet, sweet money the top 1,000 channels are making!

There really should be a B.Y. and an A.Y. (before YouTube and after). It seems bizarre that there was a time when you couldn’t think of a song you heard once at a high school dance, and then be listening to/watching/dancing alone in your room to the video for that song within 30 seconds (but before YouTube, that would have been insane. We are truly through the looking glass, people.) Before 2005, though, this was the case. Now we live in, as comedian Patton Oswalt calls it, “the age of everything forever,” and the world is changed in ways we are only beginning to understand (in 20 years, I guarantee there will be Google PhDs, received from Google University. Go Terrabytes!) YouTube was one of the first sites to pay its users, and while it’s hard to make money unless you generate a lot of traffic, it’s possible. Some people even make a living.

This infographic from ad-agency MDG breaks down just many views the top channels are getting (surprise, many of them belong to big brands or musical stars) and how much revenue this generates. The numbers are fascinating:


The top 500 brands on YouTube average 884,000 views a month, with 98,000 views per video and about 35,000 subscribers (top brands also average about 203,000 Twitter followers and 2.6. million Facebook likes, because people just can’t stop pressin’ that button.)

The top 1,000 channels also average $23,000 in monthly ad revenue, and in another interesting number, it turns out that 350 social-media interactions are generated for each minute of video uploaded by these top channels. Meaning the top videos get linked, embedded, tweeted, etc., which is common sense, but still interesting to have put into an actual figure. Subscribers to these top 1,000 channels average 7.5 million views every month, 25 million comments (all of which are thoughtful and well-written) and 55 million ratings (thumbs up or down).

Additionally, MDG points out that most consumers are sick of traditional ads, and projects a rise in digital video ad spending from 2 billion dollars in 2011 to 8.04 billion in 2016. That’s a huge leap in just five years, though, really, this is just replacing TV commercials with internet commercials. There’s still no guarantee anyone will watch the ad, but since DVR is making traditional TV spots less relevant every day, these companies have to annoy you somehow. And YouTube users spend far more time on the site than any other video site, by far.

But what does this translate into, in terms of revenue? Well, the top YouTube video everGangnam Style (I know, I know) has over one billion views and counting (somewhere around 1.6 billion as of today) and generated about $870,000 dollars for Psy and his record label. While that is more than a quarter of a million dollars, it’s maybe not as much as one might think would be earned for a billion views:

What does this mean for indie filmmakers? Do you post your work on YouTube, or higher-quality video but lower view sites like Vimeo? Do you participate in the ad share program, which is the only way to make money in the first place? If so, have you seen any money? What do you think the future of internet advertising is, and how will it affect content creators like indie filmmakers in this brave new world?



We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • Lol, thoughtful comments on Youtube…
    I feel all filmmakers should place their films onto Youtube, as well as Vimeo and other sites.
    And if you want to make a living off it, then be prepared to make consistent films/videos that will attract an audience and take time to promote and spread your film.
    Isn’t that the whole reason we make films anyway? For them to be seen and our message to be passed across? The whole landscape of distribution is changing.
    When I signed up to Youtube back in the mid noughties, it really was just a place for random videos. But you look at it now with all the big Youtubers, there’s actual entertainment there, and a few surprises. I love Robbaz’s channel. He’s no filmmaker but he’s sure making way more videos than the purist filmmaker that takes months to write their first script just to be pedantic and never really get to produce it.

  • According to Motley Fool, YouTube alone will generate in excess of $5B in revenues this year. It did something like $1.4B the last quarter.

    But, IMO, the independent will have go on a subscription based model, as there won’t be traffic comparable to Psy’s.

  • The channel that first opened my eyes to this was WIGS, a channel devoted to female led drama produced out of Atlanta. It features solid TV and film actors (Anna Paquin, Maggie Grace etc), and they shoot everything on their RED rigs (I think two MXs from memory). Its production values lie somewhere between those of indie film and mainstream TV, and its interesting that they deliberately compose shots to work online, similar to the early days of TV, ie, no big wides.
    So basically they are an entire cable TV network, but via Youtube, and have been in business for around 4 years now. Nice to see a money-making channel done in actual drama rather than shouty tech/game reviews or old people reviewing films. :-)

    • We’re yet to master internet distribution. From reading your comment: I googled WIGS, watched the first episode of Susanna, loved it, loved it very much, subscribed to the channel and you can bet I’ll tweet and tell all my friends about it. Thanks for the lead

  • I make my living off of youtube. It’s a great gig but so far there isn’t much of a market for the kind of stuff that you see on TV. Youtube is about connecting with your audience. People like their favorite youtube stars and want the best for them. Nobody cares about the characters in Walking Dead, they aren’t real.

    It’s a very different thing to talk to your audience than it is to talk at your audience. Most of the pros that come in from other media fail for that reason.

    • I don’t think that’s true. The characters might might not be “real” but the interaction between them is. The brain doesn’t register real emotion differently from fictional emotion. The problems comes from subpar writing (especially in the area of characterization) and this 4 quadrant mentality.

    • I don’t think this is very applicable to filmmakers. I don’t know how WIGS’ business model works, because their viewcounts would imply that they’ve generated maybe high five figures total for their hundreds of videos. I doubt Anna Pacquin is charging them her normal dayrate. I suspect it’s more about a very well connected person leveraging relationships and everyone is working for free or close to it.

      The people who are making a living off YouTube are those who can create daily content. Video game commentary is a common theme because for a very low price you get what is essentially an engine to create visually stimulating footage. Add some good commentary on top of it and you can build a following. Bonuses for English accents and cartoon caricatures.

      But I don’t see any way of doing that as a narrative content creator. Most of us spend months or years in pre-production, and usually as much time in post. In the end we get a short film, a feature film, or maybe a webseries. How many thousands of hours of work go into dozens of minutes of footage? There’s no way to make that work as a Youtube filmmaker.

      • I can see where you’re coming from but the luxuries of extended pre and post production times are over. We’re going to have to start working tighter if we want to survive because this model is the future. It’s the age of abundance.

        Limitations always encourage creativity, look at Takshi Miike, he’s averaging 2 or 3 movies a year.

        • I’m not sure if you are familiar with NOLLYWOOD; the Nigerian film industry, a full length feature film used to be produced entirely in less than 2weeks, but the effect was a very poor quality. NOLLYWOOD gave us quantity, not quality. This is changing now. I’m concerned that if we want narrative films to produce contents in mass for youtube, we may as well be asking for a huge drop in the quality of films that are produced – we would never see an Avatar on youtube, but we would get more interesting short entertainment on that would also work well for online advertising.

      • WIGS is content paid for by YouTube to the creators. It was never meant as something that the creators expected to get revenue back on but rather as a way for YouTube itself to build the foundation for being a narrative entertainment destination.

    • What do you mean no one cares about the characters in Walking Dead? Methinks it wouldn’t be as successful as it is if they didn’t. By the way, most youtubers aren’t real characters either. They’re performers.

  • YouTube owns the WIGS Channel and thus promotes it as original content. Apparently, each 10-12 min episode is shot in about a day. Actors work for SAG scale. For independents, the most likely route is Roger Corman’s type (called “Corman’s Drive In” channel that is available at $3.99/mo and has only opened for business this week) service. Corman’s success or lack thereof may guide future endeavors but someone will have to invest some capital into it first.

  • There is now more demand for professional quality video/filmmaking than there is supply. And the trend today is toward pre-sold sponsored content for major brands. That is where the real money is in the near term. And the big Hollywood agencies — CAA, WME, ICM and UTA — all have dedicated digital departments now looking for content. In turn, that has already led to feature directing deals with major studios for several writer-directors who are doing really great work — often on DSLRs. That, combined with the ever-expanding digital and VOD platforms, is the future. And it is a bright one for people will real talent and business savvy.

  • I’m tempted to monetize my YouTube channel. But I know how much I am annoyed by commercials when I don’t have adblock. So do I want to subject my viewers to the same? At this point I can’t.

  • I have a quite known channel here in Brazil… I still cannot make lots of money. But i’m always able to pay my next vídeo and put something in my pocket! (I used to make one video per week)
    Right now we are making a web series founded just with youtube money!
    I hope to one day be able to leave freelancers and work just with youtube. But the hardest thing is to find your audience and keep them pleased. I have almost 50k subs and more than 2 million views… Sometimes some kids know me on the street and ask to take pictures! haha.

    • marcus,

      is it alright for me to ask how much you get from YouTube each month?

      • Im signed with a network (machinima) and in my old contract I was making almost $1k per month, releasing videos every week. Now they forced me to change the contract to revenue sharing (bastards! hehe) and might be making half of that. Don’t know for sure becouse I’m producing a web series and stoped making videos everyweek. I hope when I release the webseries I gonna increase my views and make 1k again…
        But depends where you live. If you live in US and Europe cpm (clicks per mile) increase, couse the companies pays more for advertsing, here in Brasil they dont pay so much…But usualy to make 1k in US or Europe you need between 500k to 1milion views to get $1k. :)

  • Trying to make a few dollars on Youtube is an interesting introduction to the market. I have a monetized channel. I’ve tried putting my best stuff on it–narrative and doc shorts–and they get no hits. What gets hits and earns me about $5/month (whoohoo) is “How to Do a Timelapse on the Nikon D600″. If you try to make $ on Youtube there is a good chance you will soon be pandering to the lowest common denominator. It’s an interesting challenge to try to make videos that are popular and yet leave you feeling someone proud of your work.

  • If we know all this, then my question is……What kind of stats do you need to gross $100k a year? That’s what I wanna know. That strikes me as the tipping point where your net could work out as $50k a year. Does anyone know the answer to this question?

    • Depends where you live and where is you audience. If you live in US and Europe cpm (clicks per mile) increase, couse the companies pays more for advertsing, But usualy to make 1k in US or Europe you need between 500k to 1milion views to get $1k.

      So to make $100k per year you need beetween 4 milion views to 8 milion views per month. I know a few youtubers here where I live that get this kind of money.

      • Wow, I’m really wondering how to swing that for online narrative content. It would have to be serial, such as a web series or TV show….on the web. But I really wonder how that compares to things like TV. I mean you can do a 13 episode season over the course of a show and release an episode roughly a month. 4 to 8 million views means you couldn’t simply release the episode and that’s it.

        I’m working on a web series and I think I’d write it like a hour long show. Then I’d split it into a half hour program, accompanied by 3-5 vignettes that would be released throughout the month to supplement the episode. Hopefully that will keep the audience invested an allow an avenue to introduce and track the responses to those side stories/vignettes. Between that and a 5-10 cast/crew commentary videos a month, I think the show has a shot at survival….thoughts?

        • The most important thing in youtube is build an audience. To get an audience you need frequency and quality content. With that you can build an audience that will follow you… Of course, you need to keep everyday advertsing on twitter, facebook you channel, otherwise, nobody gonna find it..
          To get known its good to have at least one vídeo per week..
          But of course, its youtube, so there is no right formula.

          good luck!

  • YouTube pays about $3 for 1,000 views. For an off-beat film, grossing a sustainable amount off the advertising revenue share alone seems unlikely. For a non-exclusive content like the video game/gear reviews, a subscription model seems unfeasible as well. What the independents probably need is some sort of a pooled exclusive/original content channel at a fairly common for YT rate of $3-$4/mo per subscriber. Even then, some sort of marketing muscle – like a major online/social media presence – is a requirement too.

  • I don`t think Youtube is an important channel for indies who do movies. The vast majority there looks for quick bits like laughin babies and crap. Next is the comedy oriented episodes. In order to gain 8 million views per month steadily you`ll more likely do very short stuff that you can do more or less alone – so that`s not the 100 minute sci-fi movie that takes 3 years to make and considerable money to get produced.

    • “I believed for many years that the future of motion picture distribution, particularly for the independents, is on the Internet,” Corman said. “I think the time is now.

      YouTube will keep slightly less than half of the revenue generated by the subscriptions.

      Corman’s wife and producing partner Julie Corman said they were taken aback at YouTube’s potential after a clip of their 2010 movie “Sharktopus” went viral with 11 million views.

      If even 1 percent of those viewers signed up for a subscription, it would amount to a healthy revenue stream, she said.

  • In the furure saying that someone “has the attention span of a net,” will be a compliment. The more programming is watched on iDevices, the shorter the programming needs to be, ie no-one will watch a 15min segment, no-matter how good it is, on their smart-phone!!

    Advertising needs to change, 999 out of 1,000 commercials, on YouTube, I’ll click-off as soon as I can!

  • I find the ads on YouTube to be extremely annoying, especially the the ads you can’t skip. I understand the YouTubers might depend on that for their living but if I can avoid watching them then I will.

  • My YouTube channel ZIMMERMANIA earns about $2.50 a day. It’s provides content on health and really comes from the heart. I made my juicing videos when I was very sick. And those sincere videos are the ones that provide most of the revenue. It’s interesting how sincere focused interest in the health and disease prevention translated into video brings a such a rewarding online presence. I get emails every day on the methods and mechanics of staying healthy, and sometimes people share their pain and hope with me. And quite often I hear back months even years later that my videos helped them recover from diseases like cancer. Now it that is not awesome I do not know what’s is. Bless your face.

  • Corrections to the above: My YouTube channel ZIMMERMANIA earns about $2.50 a day. It’s provides content on health that really comes from the heart. I made my juicing videos when I was very sick. And those sincere videos are the ones that provide most of the current revenue. It’s interesting how sincere focused interest in the health and disease prevention translates into a rewarding online presence. I get emails every day from viewers and other YouTube health enthusiasts about how they stay healthy or heal themselves with my juices. They share their pain hope and successes with me. It becomes a community of shared interest. Quite often I hear back from viewers months even years later saying how my videos helped them recover from diseases like cancer. Now THAT is awesome to me. I am just a very quiet introvert. Making videos helped me see myself and express my deep love and concern for others quality of life. Creating videos not only helped me heal my own body but gave me an outlet for giving. i could support my favorite non profit as well. I hope to expand my presence, commercialize other channels with excellent content and advertise high quality products that are hand picked so as to guide viewers in their health choices – assisting them to avoid errors and fake or bad supplements and products. Bill Zimmermann

  • Look at this how this is making its own living….

  • I am VERY Happy to say.. I am #1200 on the list! I make a Full Time living – and this article is very close to profits :) That is my trailer video – my channel is /djmedic2008

  • I produce a public affairs series on pedestrians and sustainable transportation. I started out on public access cable, and was delighted when video sharing sites came along in 2005 so I would have additional ways to reach viewers. Optimizing my YouTube channel and promoting the channel to bring in more viewers increases the impact of the program in educating the public and influencing public policy. The ad revenue is a very nice bonus. When I get to the point where the ad revenue is sufficient to support the production and pay the rent, the number of views should be having a substantial impact on public awareness of issues that affect pedestrians.

  • You say:

    and generated about $870,000 dollars for Psy and his record label. While that is more than a quarter of a million dollars, it’s maybe not as much as one might think would be earned for a billion views.

    Quarter of a million dollars is $250,000 and $870,000 is much MORE than a quarter of a million dollars!

    Did you mean to say three quarters of a million dollars ($750,000)?? That would make more sense.

    Also, I maybe nitpicking but saying ‘$870,000 dollars’ is redundant – the $ sign is there before 870,000 so no need to say dollars again.

  • Great post out there (Y).. btw which theme are you using?

  • naturally like your web-site but you need to check the spelling on several of your posts.
    Many of them are rife with spelling issues and
    I find it very bothersome to inform the reality on the other hand I’ll definitely come again again.

  • If people were making so much money on YouTube though, they would most certainly drop out of school. See people with a million subscribers or more and they are still studying. Either they got lucky and about to quit or trying to balance the two which is a mistake.

    • Maybe they realized that fame (even Youtube fame) is fleeting. It’s best to have a back up.

  • It’s so much fun!