YouTube games star PewDiePie is playing for global dominance

Kjellberg argues his low-budget method is a ‘winning concept’. YouTube.com

Does the name Felix Kjellberg sound familiar? How about PewDiePie? … Still nothing? Clearly you’re not one of the 31 million subscribers to YouTube’s most successful channel, PewDiePie, starring 24-year-old Swedish videogame commentator Felix Kjellberg.

In an interview with Icon Magazine for its November edition, only months after American multi-channel network (MCN) Maker Studios released the official PewDiePie app, Kjellberg hinted at the idea of not renewing his contract with the MCN at the end of the year. Rumours have since spread that Kjellberg will establish his own MCN and potentially sign other like-minded YouTubers.

Why all the fuss?

Icon Magazine says Kjellberg is “the most powerful Swede in the world”, reportedly earning US$4 million dollars a year from advertising revenue. In August this year the channel topped the 100 Most Popular Viewed YouTube Channels for the sixth month in a row, with more views than pop stars Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj.

Kjellberg takes a different approach to the often bland videogame walkthroughs, with the addition of a comedic flair.

Funny montage #2 on channel PewDiePie.

Arguably the videos are standalone entertainment, regardless of whether you are interested in the games. They aren’t the most popular video games – Kjellberg focuses on “the really terrible games”, arguing that the more popular games “result in boring videos”.

Kjellberg’s videos do have an effect on game sales with Slender, Goat Simulator and Flappy Birds all reporting increased sales after appearing on the PewDiePie channel. Kjellberg explains: “I just want to play the games, not influence sales”.

Maker Studios, the MCN Kjellberg’s currently signed with, manages 55,000 YouTube channels, offering assistance in “development, production, promotion, distribution, sales, marketing, access to royalty free music for content creation, and custom merchandise solutions”.

The studio has been extremely successful. In March it was sold to Disney for US$950 million. This was followed by the launch of Maker.tv, which changed the focus of the company by adding original premium content, separate to YouTube. This will include content from documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, most well know for SuperSize Me (2004), along with PewDiePie videos.

Low production values and a niche audience

Maker Studio’s success highlights an interesting comparison between traditional television and the new online MCNs.

How does Kjellberg’s PewDiePie channel compare to traditional television?

Felix ‘PewDiePie’ Kjellberg poses on the red carpet in Singapore last year at the inaugural Social Star Awards, billed as the Oscars for social media. EPA/ Stephen Morrison

PewDiePie’s 31 million subscribers outweighs Australia’s population by more than 7 million. Australia’s highest rating program for this year, the AFL Grand Final, had 4 million viewers.

In the United States the popular series The Big Bang Theory averages 23 million viewers per episode. The most popular video on the PewDiePie channel, A Funny Montage (best not to view at work), currently has more the 57 million views. That’s more than 14-times that of the AFL Grand Final and double that of The Big Bang Theory.

While we must place this in context – TV ratings are associated with a single broadcast time period in comparison to the accumulative views of a YouTube video – the PewDiePie channel clearly demonstrates that low production values and niche programming can gain an audience, and in this case an audience far greater than commercial television.

Kjellberg argues his low budget method is a “winning concept”, adding that on YouTube “you can relate to the people you’re watching to a much higher degree than to the people you see on TV”.

Impact on traditional television

While some argue this shift in both the production and audience engagement of video media will lead to the death of television, this type of video content is yet to truly impact traditional forms of television.

In Australia, monthly viewing of television is more than 93 hours, in comparison to online video viewing on other devices (PC/Laptop, Mobile and Tablet), which is under 12 hours.

Consider also that 99.7% of Australians have a television at home, and almost two-thirds have two or more. In comparison, Australian homes with other platforms include: tablets (42%), smartphones (69%), internet access (80%).

To assist with the foreseen impact of online media, it’s unclear whether the recent approach by Australian commercial broadcasters to establish catch-up television services such as Ten Play and the Nine Network’s Jumpin was the right one. This approach only repurposes broadcasted media, rather than producing specific online content.

As evidenced by the videos on channels such as PewDiePie, there are clearly no attempts to imitate time restrictions or frameworks of traditional television.

In Australia, about 33% of homes have internet-ready TVs. As sales of smart televisions continue, the growing number of MCNs will begin to gain access to a greater global audience.

Audiences will be able to access limitless content on a large screen in their lounge room, which raises the question: what are we going to do with it all?