David Behrens: Too old to be a YouTube sensation, but it’s paying off for some

YouTuber Jack Maynard was one of the contestants for I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here.
YouTuber Jack Maynard was one of the contestants for I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here.
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LIKE most of us, I have spent my adult life searching for a way to weave money from old rope; a scheme that would make me really rich, really fast. I can now report that I have found the nearest thing.

This week, Google paid £65 into my bank account – and a glance at my YouTube account tells me there is plenty more where that came from. Enough, perhaps, for a fish supper and a bus home.

A two-figure handout from the world’s biggest company doesn’t exactly make me an internet billionaire, but all the same, I had done nothing to earn it. Uploading a few old video clips that had been gathering dust in my loft does not, in my view, constitute work. But my definition of the word is apparently woefully out of date.

A whole generation is growing up now in the belief that filming themselves and sending the results to YouTube for the public’s gratification is a “proper job” that will keep them plied not just with fish suppers but with houses and cars, and obviate entirely the need for them to find what you or I might in the past have considered gainful employment.

They have been driven by the apparent success of what have become known as YouTubers – people whose self-appointed full-time job is to provide content for the video sharing website which Google owns. These people can often count their viewers in tens of millions and command lucrative marketing deals on the back of their popularity.

By and large, their names mean nothing to anyone over the age of 17, and that’s because the words puerile and crass hardly do justice to the nature of the content they provide. Broadly, it consists of their own video diaries, shot crudely on phones and devoid of creativity.

Some YouTubers go further and film stunts and practical jokes whose absence of taste and decency, let alone humour, would have Jeremy Beadle spinning in his grave.

This week, for instance, one of them, a grinning American called Logan Paul, attracted opprobrium for posting a video apparently showing the body of a suicide victim in a forest.

I have not seen his bank statements so cannot verify this but Mr Paul has, by all reports, become extremely wealthy on the back of his YouTubing, and he is not the only one. You may have read last month about a “beauty blogger” from Brighton who goes by the name of Zoella and who offered to sell her 12m YouTube subscribers an Advent calendar that had only 12 windows and cost £50.

Another Brighton denizen is perhaps the most notorious, but also most popular YouTuber of all. Felix Kjellberg, who calls himself PewDiePie, had a deal with Disney until he spewed out a series of unforgivable racist slurs, one of which he then tried to dismiss as “a funny meme”, whatever that means.

Yet “proper” broadcasters, on both sides of the Atlantic, are running scared of these people because they can see their young audiences migrating in their direction. ITV went so far as to book one of them last month on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here – an act that managed the seemingly impossible task of further lowering the currency of the word celebrity.

Jack Maynard, a 22-year-old with 1.2m subscribers, fled the programme after a string of obnoxious tweets and inappropriate messages to a female fan came to light.

ITV could garner similar audiences if it were allowed to broadcast unchecked the kind of vacuous, demeaning drivel that the unregulated YouTube cheerfully propagates, but thankfully, it is not.

Google sells advertising around the videos that its users provide and cuts them in on the proceeds, which is how YouTubers make their money. The more eyeballs they put in front of advertisers, the more they make, and with millions of viewers and conveyor-belt video production, you can see how the pounds pile up.

Even I, without an ounce of effort and with only 100 subscribers, am £65 better off. I didn’t film myself, by the way – I may be dim but I’m not 22 – I just shared a few clips from TV programmes with which I had been involved. Imagine how much more I could make if I set fire to the 65 quid and filmed it burning.

I don’t think my new-found wealth will put me in the supertax bracket, but if it does I’m sure the tax people will cut me the same deal they did for Google.