Social Marketing

YouTubers Who Broke into Mainstream Media


I’ve written several times before on the topic of YouTube, like describing my experience with getting kicked out of and back into the YouTube Partner Program. As convenient as it may be, most of us understand that AdSense is not exactly the most reliable source of income. You also have to wonder what would happen if YouTube disappeared. The truth is, as powerful and as pervasive as YouTube has become, it’s not the be-all and end-all. There’s much more to the world out there.

And indeed, several notable YouTubers have parlayed their online success into the world of mainstream media in some form or another. Internet fame can manifest itself into the “real world” too. Here are a few examples.

Lilly Singh

Known by her online fans as Superwoman (stylized as IISuperwomanII), Lilly Singh was the tenth highest paid YouTube star as reported by Forbes in 2017. That year, she earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million. Nothing to sneeze at! She has won multiple awards, including four Streamy Awards and two Teen Choice Awards. Her first book, How to be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life, was a number one New York Times best seller in 2017 too.

Her biggest success story, though, was the announcement that she would be hosting a new late night talk show on NBC, replacing Last Call with Carson Daly. In addition to hosting A Little Late with Lilly Singh, she will also serve as an executive producer on the series. She has also appeared in such Hollywood movies as Bad Moms, and providing her voice talents to Ice Age: Collision Course. She’s kind of a big deal.

Anna Akana

Anna Akana has been a mainstay in the YouTube community for a number of years. Her videos approach heavier topics of mental health with dashes of humor and personality. She has expanded her professional career beyond being the face of her YouTube videos, writing a book, running a production company, and launching a music career. She also appeared in Marvel’s Ant-Man movie.

John and Hank Green

You might know them as the vlogbrothers and they’ve been around practically as long as YouTube has been around. What may have started out as a simple back-and-forth vlog exchange between brothers has grown into a monumental YouTube empire with such notable channels as SciShow and Crash Course. They’re also behind Complexly LLC, an American video production company that’s behind The Financial Diet, Eons, Origin of Everything, and several other properties.

They’re both also accomplished authors, with John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars being made into a 2014 Hollywood movie starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe.

Matt D’Avella

On some level, you might say that Matt D’Avella went about this in the reverse direction. His biggest claim to fame was the creation of the Minimalism documentary with Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn. After being picked up by Netflix, the documentary exploded in popularity. Director Matt D’Avella made even more of a name for himself with The Ground Up Show podcast and his related YouTube channel.

Justin Bieber

Most of us probably don’t think of Justin Bieber as a “YouTuber” in the traditional sense (if there is such a thing as a “traditional” YouTuber), but the pop star was “discovered” via the online platform by talent manager Scooter Braun. He was subsequently signed to a record deal at just 13 years of age and the rest is history. Bieber has an estimated net worth of around $265 million. Not bad for a 20-something, eh?

Ryan Kaji

Why wait until your teenage years to be a superstar? Ryan Kaji has been on YouTube since he was a toddler, best known for his Ryan ToysReview YouTube channel. He unboxes and plays with a variety of toys; Ryan and his parents are arguably responsible for the explosion of similar types of content on the video platform. This success — the channel is one of the top earners on YouTube, full stop — led to the creation of a television series on Nick Jr. (Nickelodeon) called Ryan’s Mystery Playdate.

But with great success has come great responsibility and potential litigation. Ryan’s parents have been hit with an FTC complaint about lack of disclosure for paid product placements. Influencer marketing is a brave new world and issues surrounding advertising targeting children is particularly complex.

Do you know any other big (or biggish) YouTubers who have “made it” in mainstream media? Share via the comments below! Maybe you’ll be the next Superwoman or Hank Green!


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