- YouTube millionaires like PewDiePie and Zoella are seeing a massive slowdown in subscriber growth and views, according to social stats analysed by Business Insider.
- YouTubers have seen years of growth as vlogging exploded, but it looks like the golden days are over and the most business-savvy creators will need to diversify.
- Popular creators like H3H3Productions have previously blamed YouTube’s algorithms for an apparent slowdown in subscribers or viewers.
- There’s no official explanation — but YouTube has had to tweak its algorithms a lot in 2017 to tackle inappropriate content.
The internet is a fickle mistress.
Popular YouTubers including PewDiePie and Zoella are seeing a huge slowdown in their online subscriber growth, signalling that even the top earners will need to look beyond video to maintain their popularity and income.
Business Insider analysed statistics from the website SocialBlade, which tracks channel statistics for YouTube and other social networks, and found a trend of slowing subscriber growth and channel views.
Famous YouTubers experienced years of massive growth but it’s slowing down
Let’s look at PewDiePie, one of the most successful and established YouTubers, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg. As PewDiePie, Kjellberg built up a fanbase who enjoyed watching him play games, though he quickly branched out into goofball comedy and, increasingly, philosophical musings about the news, his fame, and YouTube as a platform.
This graph shows you that PewDiePie’s total subscribers have been going up over time, which isn’t much of a surprise. He’s one of the highest earning YouTube stars of 2017, according to Forbes, and has almost 60 million subscribers.
But the picture isn’t so positive when we look at the number of subscribers per month.
Starting from January this year, the number of people subscribing to PewDiePie’s channel each month has begun to slow down.
That’s easily explained. There’s only a finite number of YouTube watchers in the world who will be interested in PewDiePie and after seven years in operation, it’s possible he’s hit peak subscriber growth. In other words, anyone who wants to watch PewDiePie regularly has already subscribed.
This would be fine if PewDiePie can maintain or increase his monthly views. This would mean that even if he’s hit peak subscribers, he’s keeping his audience very loyal and engaged.
Except that PewDiePie’s monthly views are slowing down too. Look at this graph, which shows that through 2015, PewDiePie’s channel regularly hit 300 million views or higher. Fast forward to October 2017, and the picture is one of decline.
The picture is similar for other big YouTubers.
YouTube superstar Zoella is seeing slowing growth across her two main channels
Zoella, aka Zoe Sugg, is probably the most famous female YouTuber in the UK.
She’s noticeably branched out beyond YouTube into books, events, beauty products, and a poorly received advent calendar. That’s a lot of product diversification! And if you look at Sugg’s YouTube stats, it’s easy to see why she’s trying to build a branding empire.
The first chart shows how, like PewDiePie, Zoella’s total monthly views are falling over time. This means fewer people bother to watch a new video when she uploads one — even as her subscriber count increases.
Zoella’s channel for superfans, MoreZoella, is seeing the same pattern.
Even the super-popular ‘Minecraft’ vlogger DanTDM isn’t immune to the slowdown
DanTDM, or Daniel Middleton, is a British YouTuber who vlogs about gaming, and particularly ‘Minecraft.’ He’s hugely popular with ‘Minecraft’ fans and his DanTDM channel is one of the most popular British YouTube channels. He also just topped Forbes’ list of the highest paid YouTube stars in the world, with an estimated income of $16.5 million (£12.3 million).
But his stats over 2017 should probably prompt him to look beyond YouTube. He’s doing that already with sellout shows around the world, where his young fans can pay extra to meet him.
Like Zoella and PewDiePie, DanTDM saw a slowdown in subscribers and monthly views through 2017, compared with 2016 and 2015.
There are some notable exceptions to the trend
Philip DeFranco is the fast-talking host of The Philip DeFranco Show on YouTube, an opinionated and popular daily news show. DeFranco featured in YouTube’s Rewind 2017, Google’s annual recap of the year’s viral videos and vloggers.
DeFranco has a network of channels, and Business Insider looked at his main channel.
DeFranco is also seeing slowing subscriber growth. But he bucks a trend in that he’s still seeing growth in monthly views. In other words, people don’t necessarily want to subscribe but DeFranco still does a good job of capturing lots of viewers.
Here are the charts:
Husband-and-wife team H3H3Productions also bucked the trend
Ethan and Hila Klein are a husband-and-wife team who produce videos under the name H3H3Productions. They’re known for YouTube “reaction videos” satirising other YouTubers, but also for general commentary on internet culture and comedy sketches.
Like just about everyone else, they had something of a slowdown in subscribers in the later half of 2017, but they largely had a good year.
They also managed to boost their monthly views through 2017, meaning their later videos are landing better with their audience.
Here’s the chart, which is much more ambiguous than the numbers for other YouTubers:
High-profile YouTubers have complained about site glitches affecting their stats
It isn’t clear why this is happening, but it is a tough lesson for creators who have carved out a living producing endless videos for YouTube.
Last November, Ethan Klein of H3H3Productions complained in a video that the site was mysteriously unsubscribing some fans, including PewDiePie. At the time, he speculated that subscription glitches were down to the site’s constantly changing algorithms. Other YouTubers weighed in to complain that views had been “really bad.”
YouTube is having to be a lot more careful about what it promotes through its algorithms, after numerous scandals about inappropriate content.
In November, BuzzFeed uncovered an autocomplete bug that meant users were prompted with the search term “How to have s*x with your kids” if they typed “How to have…” in the search box. And advertisers like Mars boycotted YouTube after The Times found paedophilic comments underneath normal videos of children.
It’s possible that this, plus Google’s wider crackdown on fake traffic from bots, might be affecting viewing figures. Either way, it looks like it’ll be a tough 2018 for YouTube’s creators.