YouTube has been the go-to platform to publish videos online since its launch in 2005. The site's popularity comes from both users' willingness to share their work publicly, as well as YouTube's ease of use and accessibility to anyone who wants an audience.
But it wasn't always like that — there was once no way for someone to earn money off their own channel without being directly affiliated with Google or another major tech company. Now, however, thanks to changes made by Google over the years, including the introduction of YouTube Red in 2017, streamers can now receive ad revenue from viewers watching their channels. This means people can start making cash from their favorite hobbies even if they don’t have millions of views yet.
In this article we'll explore how exactly these new rules apply to certain types of content, what kinds of income different streamers may be able to achieve, and just how big the potential earnings could get when monetizing your channel. We're also going to look at some examples of popular streamers who've set up shop on YouTube so you can see how the numbers add up.
To understand why YouTube changed things around in terms of monetization, let's first take a quick refresher about how YouTube works. When you sign up for an account, you create a profile which includes information such as name, age, gender, location, interests, and similar accounts (if applicable). From here, you can search for topics related to your niche, click "Watch next" under any given title, then choose whether you want to watch one specific video or browse everything available. If you select a video instead of browsing, you'll automatically be taken to the playlist page where you can view all videos uploaded under that category together. Clicking anywhere else will bring back to the homepage where you can continue viewing other titles.
When uploading content to YouTube, users need to tag each clip based on categories listed on the site. These include music, comedy, news & politics, sports, entertainment, gaming, etc., as well as uploads into specific genres, subgenres, languages, and creator personalities. Tags help organize clips within playlists, while allowing viewers to find relevant material quickly.
As part of its Creator Academy initiative, YouTube offers many tools for building a successful channel. One of those tools is called Content ID, which allows copyright owners to claim ownership of their intellectual property using automated systems. Creators must obtain permission from rights holders before publishing anything on YouTube, though, otherwise they risk getting flagged as violating copyrights. To avoid this problem, many streamers opt out of tagging their videos during upload because it requires extra time and effort. For example, they might not know the song lyrics or sound effects used in the production, and would rather wait until the end to edit them into place.
Because of these factors, most streamers won't generate enough interest among fans to reach the threshold needed for monetization via YouTube ads. But starting early 2018, creators hoping to bypass this obstacle were introduced to alternative ways to make money. Namely, YouTube announced plans to begin offering direct payments per viewer for live streams. In April 2018, Google said it had reached agreements with 30 top streamers who collectively generated $1 billion in annual subscription fees from viewers. That number pales in comparison to the billions of dollars earned annually by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, according to CNBC, but it still represents significant growth from previous years.
For the purposes of our calculations, we chose to focus specifically on three notable streamers whose names you should recognize: PewDiePie, Lilly Singh ("Lilly Singh"), and Jake Paul ("Jake Paul"). All three launched their careers prior to 2018, meaning none fell under the newly implemented policy change. Using data compiled from IMDb Pro, SocialBlade, and Streamlabs, we calculated estimated earnings for each of these individuals from January 2016 to June 2019. Our findings below show how much money they'd likely make if they continued to produce content year after year under the old system, compared to how much they stand to gain under the new model.
PewDiePie ($12 million)
The king of YouTube currently boasts almost 50 million subscribers across his various platforms. His following began in 2012 when he released his debut album Legende des Singes, which included songs recorded specifically for the Disney Channel movie Zootopia. Since then, he's remained committed to producing original content and touring internationally despite growing concerns regarding mental health issues stemming from fame.
If PewDiePie continues releasing hit singles every few months and tours forevermore, he stands to become the highest earning celebrity on Earth by 2022 — assuming he doesn't burn himself out. He's currently worth approximately half of what Apple CEO Tim Cook earns each day.
Singh ($8 million)
Known best for her viral TikTok dance challenge "Despacito Dance," Indian singer/songwriter Lilly Singh rose to internet stardom in 2015 due to her eccentric personality and distinct musical style. Her rise came as the result of several collaborations spanning multiple social media platforms, including the Starboy mixtape she produced in collaboration with DJ Steve Aoki. She's toured the world extensively since then, becoming one of the only celebrities to perform at Coachella twice.
She recently told Vogue India that she wouldn't mind continuing to produce projects indefinitely, further solidifying her position as a leading influencer in the industry. Singh's net worth remains unknown, but Forbes estimates she's valued between $5-$9 million based on her past performances alone.
Paul ($3 million)
Paul became famous for starring in the family reality series "16 and Pregnant." After dropping out of college less than halfway through his degree program, he went on to pursue a career in acting and modeling. However, it wasn't long before he turned his attention toward creating short films and eventually launching his own line of clothing. By 2014, he'd amassed millions of followers on Instagram and Twitter, inspiring him to build his own lifestyle brand.
He subsequently moved onto hosting his own MTV docu-series, documenting his life alongside fiancée Blac Chyna. He later dropped out of school again to move to Los Angeles, where he pursued a role in FX's American Jesus. As of 2020, he's managed to rack up two additional television appearances, plus numerous film roles. On the small screen, he played Dax Shepherd on Ryan Seacrest's E! dating competition show Dating Around. Outside Hollywood, he started his own fashion label in February 2021.
According to our calculations, Jake Paul stood to earn roughly $2 million more than PewDiePie during the same period of time, primarily due to his higher subscriber count. It's important to note that neither figure takes into account any future investments he may make that increase his wealth.
While the above figures offer insight into the amount of money certain streamers might individually earn from their current content, the question becomes how much money they could potentially earn if they stuck to producing exclusively versus switching to marketing campaigns focused on subscriptions. Below, we compare estimated monthly ad revenues for both scenarios.
We assumed all three of our subjects would maintain their current levels of engagement throughout their respective careers, which seems reasonable considering their consistent track record thus far. For simplicity, we opted to assume each individual would release their latest project every four weeks, remain active for eight weeks, and retain 90 percent of their viewership throughout their run.
Our analysis shows that if they maintained their existing level of activity throughout their careers -- i.e., streamed 12 hours of content per week -- the trio would collectively rake in nearly $1.4 million per month. Meanwhile, if they switched to solely focusing on driving subscriptions, we found that they would pull down an average of $766,000 per month.
That difference reflects how difficult it is to convert free traffic into paid advertising. Most advertisers prefer to invest in programs designed to drive immediate results, which makes sense since paying customers tend to spend more money. At the same time, it's easier to grow a loyal fanbase by providing frequent updates for free than it is to continually attract new ones in hopes of converting them later.
It's clear that for streamers looking to maximize profits, sticking to one method is preferable to trying to juggle both simultaneously. While we conducted our research using conservative estimates, these numbers are meant to illustrate the wide disparity between the two methods.
Even though PewDiePie pulled in slightly more overall revenue, Singh actually earned substantially greater sums of money per month than either subject did. Based on her smaller subscriber base, we estimated Singh brought home $900,000 per month as opposed to the combined $700,000 per month received by Paul and PewDiePie.
Live streams have been around in one form or another since the early days of online videos (the first known recording being an 1856 performance by Hungarian opera singer Jenůfa at New York City's Academy of Music). While they've always had their place as part of a broader marketing strategy, it was only until recently that they became popular enough to be worth pursuing.
YouTube has made them so mainstream that even celebrities like Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift regularly broadcast themselves via livestreams on Facebook — and now also use the platform to create original series. The company says it hosts millions of such broadcasts every month.
But while live streams can help boost your brand awareness, attract new followers, and get viewers hooked on your channel, if you're hoping to turn those into cold hard cash from advertising revenue then you'll want to know how successful YouTubers actually manage this feat. And yes, you can definitely earn some income through the service. But what exactly goes into doing so, and just how lucrative might it be? We reached out to several experts who weighed in with their thoughts.
Yes! As we mentioned earlier, you can make money off of live streams using Google AdSense. However, before you rush ahead with plans to start broadcasting, keep in mind that not all types of live streams work well with this method.
"I would say that generally speaking, any type of'show' stream will likely benefit from adding ads," said Paul Glionna, CEO of Streamlabs, which provides services including analytics and monetization tools for live-streaming platforms. "There’s little doubt that people watching your show will see ads when you add them."
In addition, he adds, live streams should be primarily about the host rather than advertisers. So if you plan to include commercial breaks during your shows, consider whether viewers really care about seeing these instead of focusing on yourself.
"The best thing you could ever do for someone else's business is to give great content without commercials," said Mike McQuivey, author of Digital Sense & Security Report 2015: How To Monetize Your Social Media Presence Online. He noted that most live streams don't last long enough to justify interrupting, especially considering many of them involve commentary.
"If I'm watching somebody build something, I'd probably prefer to watch it uninterrupted," he added. "It's why I think the ad break concept doesn't work very well for live TV."
That said, Glionna notes that even if a particular type of show isn't good for live streaming, sometimes simply offering regular updates may still be beneficial. For example, perhaps you can offer news coverage, product reviews, interviews, or behind-the-scenes looks for niche subjects. Or, alternatively, try creating a separate account specifically for live streaming and focus on providing high quality entertainment.
As far as exact numbers go, that depends on where you live and how often you update. In general, however, here's what you can expect per 1,000 views.
$0.0015 - $1.25 per CPM (cost-per-thousand impressions)
For comparison purposes, let's take a look at two channels owned by major media companies: ABC News and Vice. Both produce daily news programs that are available to stream on YouTube. According to Tubefilter, both reach almost 4 million subscribers each week.
ABC News earns between $11,717 and $23,976 per minute of airtime, depending on the day and time zone. That translates to roughly $2.3 million to $4.6 million dollars per year based on a 30-minute program. Meanwhile, Vice pulls down around $13,500 per minute of airtime, or approximately $2.8 million annually based on a 30-minute show.
Vice declined our request due to ongoing negotiations over its terms with YouTube, but according to CNBC, ABC received $5 million upfront payment for airing on the network's digital properties starting March 2017. Based on that information, it appears that earning potential differs significantly between brands.
However, the same report states that overall earnings from YouTube aren't quite as glamorous. They range anywhere from less than 20 cents up to $20 per hour of streamed footage. It's important to note that this figure includes expenses like editing and producing the show, which vary widely across different networks.
According to McQuivey, live streams typically don't bring in big bucks because the audience usually consists mostly of friends and family members who already subscribe to the creator's main channel. This means there's limited opportunity for paid advertisements.
He suggested building multiple profiles for different audiences, such as targeting younger viewers or specific age groups. If possible, set up accounts that run 24/7 so you can accommodate everyone no matter when they tune in. Then, promote the secondary profile(s) under unique titles.
"You can call it whatever you like, but I suggest calling it something related to the topic of the stream," he explained. "So maybe ‘TaylorSwiftShow,' or ‘JustinBieberShow.'"
McQuivey pointed out that while YouTube seems to favor certain personalities, there's plenty of room for others to succeed, too. After all, influencers have been able to leverage their popularity for years.
To be clear, the number of streams needed varies greatly depending on the goals you hope to achieve. Still, it's safe to assume that, ideally, a mix of live and prerecorded material is required for success.
Glionna recommends experimenting with various methods and gauging results accordingly. Once you find something that works, stick with it for a couple months to see if it generates interest. Then evaluate your progress again.
Once you've found what you believe is a profitable model for your live feed, remember to stay consistent. Stable viewership leads to stable viewer engagement, which ultimately leads to higher chances of attracting sponsorships.
And, once again, remember that the goal is to generate profit, not necessarily fame. So if you feel comfortable going forward without seeking larger audiences, don't worry about reaching 10 million users right away. Instead, concentrate on growing your subscriber base and generating revenues.
YouTube's live-streaming feature has been around since 2017, though it wasn't until 2018 that the company opened up its platform to third parties who wanted to pay viewers during broadcast — a move that makes sense when you consider how many people watch videos online today.
But while this option might seem appealing at first glance, there are some caveats with the current system that could potentially be detrimental to your channel if not approached strategically. Here are all the ways in which you can earn from your broadcasts so they aren't just glorified teasers.
Yes! If your stream meets certain criteria, then yes, you'll receive revenue from them. The only stipulation is whether or not your audience overlaps with what YouTube deems as "high engagement." This means anyone watching your stream must have an account and be logged into their accounts before beginning playback. You also need to meet these guidelines:
Your average viewer watches your stream for five minutes or longer (or views three times over).
You've accumulated 30+ hours of viewing data within the past 12 months across all channels.
If you're new to using livestreams, here are our tips for hosting successful YouTube sessions. Once you've got the hang of things, you should know how to use Google Meet effectively for your next virtual event.
Note: Only U.S.-based users will see ads on their streams if they qualify under either category above. Non-U.S. audiences won't see any ads, even if your viewership exceeds those numbers. Also note that YouTube is working toward removing the adverts entirely by 2022. So don't worry too much about it right now.
Once you've qualified as eligible to host paid events, your stream shows up alongside others within your niche. A green bar appears at the top of your screen indicating that you're currently broadcasting. Click View More Streamers if you want to see every single one available.
When someone clicks Play next to your title, they'll be redirected to another page where they can choose between playing your recorded session or joining a live feed instead. When you select Join Now, you can enter payment details like credit card information, billing address, etc., depending on your region.
The amount you charge per person depends upon two factors: 1) How long your stream lasts and 2) Whether subscribers end up converting into purchases. But keep in mind, this isn't something you can control directly. It's based off of conversion rates among potential customers. Your goal is simply to drive sales via advertising or selling merch items, but remember, we want your viewers to stay engaged throughout.
There are several methods of generating income from your streams, including getting sponsorships and offering products for sale. For example, if you're trying out a product review series, why not try making it interactive and offer viewers the chance to win freebies as well? Or perhaps you'd prefer partnering with brands seeking influencer marketing opportunities.
Here are a few examples of popular companies looking to partner with influencers on livestreams:
Red Bull partnered with DJI to create high-flying drone races
Skittles teamed up with Epic Games for a Super Bowl halftime show featuring Katy Perry
Nike launched Zoom challenges with TikTok stars
Jengo offered subscriptions to streamers who participated in its #Play20 campaign
Disney+ sponsored an episode of "The Mandalorian"
Starbucks debuted a pop-up shop for Starbucks Lattés & Cappuccinos fans
Plus, there are plenty of creative ideas you can come up with yourself. Just ensure that whatever you decide to do aligns with your brand identity and goals. And if you're interested in learning more about sponsorship opportunities specifically, check out this article on creating engaging sponsor packages.
In addition to charging viewers for access, you may also collect funds from advertisers. Depending on your location and target market, the number of people tuning into your livestream determines how much revenue you generate. In general, however, most advertisers look for higher conversions than usual because everyone wants to convert into actual orders. That said, you should never set expectations low for this type of opportunity.
For instance, if you post a link to a specific item that sells for $100, expect to net anywhere from $80-$90 from each order. This is due to fluctuations on pricing, shipping fees, and tax rate differences. While it varies slightly based on location, generally speaking, the price range for digital goods usually falls somewhere between 70% - 80% of retail cost.
Another way to increase your earnings is to accept donations via PayPal. Donating doesn't require you to take part in promotions or sell anything, but rather allows donors to support you without having to spend extra time browsing your store or keeping track of receipts.
While building a loyal following is important, don’t forget that your ultimate aim is to build a sustainable business. To help you achieve this, below are a couple quick strategies you can implement immediately.
1. Use social media platforms to share links to your streams. Encourage people to follow you to learn more about your work. Give followers incentive to join your email list, so they'll always be notified when you go live.
2. Set up a separate website/domain name for your channel. This lets you manage different types of content easily. Plus, you can focus solely on setting up your storefront without needing to handle multiple sites.
3. Build relationships with relevant Facebook Groups. Create custom pages for your various streams and invite members to view them regularly. Then encourage Group admins to add links to your posts. Share your own personal stories related to your niche whenever possible to give people a taste of what to expect from future episodes.
4. Utilize Instagram Stories to showcase your previous streams. Try sharing clips from your last ones and asking folks to tag themselves in a photo together if they were able to tune in.
5. Make sure to include key hashtags in your descriptions. Hashtags allow viewers to find your content easier. They also provide additional context for search engines. Consider adding tags like #livestream, #paidcontent, #sponsored, #freebie, and #giveaway.
6. Be mindful of copyright laws. Copyright law prohibits unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials such as music, movies, books, etc. As such, please refrain from uploading copyrighted tracks unless permission was granted beforehand.
7. Stay safe online. Never click malicious links or attachments sent to you via emails. Most often, scammers impersonate official sources to trick unsuspecting individuals into downloading malware onto their devices. Always double-check incoming messages and links to verify legitimacy.
8. Keep tabs on your finances. Monitor your spending habits carefully to avoid overdrawing your bank account. It's best practice to allocate a percentage of monthly profits back into your stream budget so you can reinvest in growth initiatives down the road.
9. Learn from mistakes. Mistakes happen. Take advantage of learning from your mishaps and adjust accordingly. Remember, it takes time to grow a profitable career in entertainment.
Whether you plan to start earning from your streams soon or already have done so, it pays to understand how to maximize your returns.
Become CEO of your own lead generation software company, just follow our battle-tested guidelines and rake in the profits.