By Olatunde Michael-Daniel
- Felix Kjellberg, known as PewDiePie, took number one spot with $15.5m
- Collectively all 10 YouTube stars earned $70.5million this year
- Included prankster Roman Atwood and comedian Lily Singh
Another year has almost come to an end, and 2016 was a major one for YouTubers when it came to earning cold hard cash.
The top 10 highest-paid YouTube stars this year made a collective $70.5million, with the top earner raking in a cool $15million.
Swedish gamer Felix Kjellberg, known to his fans as PewDiePie, took the number one spot for the second year in a row thanks in part to his nearly 50 million subscribers.
Joining him on the Forbes list are comedians, a prankster, and an LGBT youth activist, among others.
Many on the list went to college and earned degrees in the likes of psychology or engineering, only to forego a traditional job for a life behind the camera.
Clearly, it’s paid off. Here are the top 10 highest paid YouTube stars of 2016:
Earned: $15 million Subscribers: 49,756,391
Swedish gamer Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, now 27, earned the top spot on the YouTube’s highest earner list for the second year in a row thanks to his channel PewDiePie
Five years ago Swedish gamer Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, now 27, dropped out of a competitive industrial engineering program to focus full-time on his YouTube channel PewDiePie.
His parents were livid that he had given up a degree at Chalmers University of Technology to play video games on YouTube full-time, and cut him off.
Felix supported himself early on by working at a hot dog stand, but soon his channel soared to heights no one could have expected.
Now Felix is dating one of his fans, living in Bristol, England and earning the title for highest paid YouTube star for the second year in a row – making $3million more than he did in 2015.
He is the first person to ever reach 10 billion YouTube views, with totals now nearing 14 billion, and was named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people this year.
But Felix has come a long way from just letting his fans – dubbed the ‘Bro Army’ – watch him play and comment on video games.
This year the gamer released This Book Loves You, which made the New York Times bestseller list, and a sock line.
Felix’s second video game, PewDiePie’s Tuber Stimulator, was also downloaded more than 1 million times within 24 hours of being released, according to Mashable.
His influence on the gamer community is so great that some say Felix has an ‘Oprah Effect’, with sales of certain games spiking when he mentions them on PewDiePie.
Felix has recently landed in hot water after joking he was joining ISIS and claiming YouTube was sabotaging his channel because he is white.
The gamer recently threatened to delete his YouTube account after reaching 50 million subscribers because he felt the site was trying to hamper his success.
He claimed the number of views on his videos were being altered to lower numbers and that his subscribers could no longer see certain videos.
‘I’m white, can i make that comment? But I do think that’s a problem.’
Felix then suggested YouTube wanted ‘someone extremely cancerous’ to take the top spot, before referencing comedian Lily Singh – who is of Indian heritage.
‘YouTube is trying to kill my channel. It is clear. It is happening if you watch my analytics. It is all going down,’ he said.
Felix has since said that YouTube reached out to him and are ‘digging into the issues’.
2. Roman Atwood
Earned: $8million Subscribers: 10,152,692 subscribers
Roman Atwood took the second spot, making $7million thanks to his famous pranks
More than 10 million people tune in to Atwood’s channel to watch him pretend to spray people with skunks or create an indoor snowstorm in his house.
Atwood is perhaps most famous two pranks in which he tried to convince his girlfriend into thinking he had killed their three-year-old son.
One involved using a dummy dressed in their son’s Spider-Man costume and throwing it from the second floor of their two-story home.
Another involved a fiery ATV accident, his girlfriend bursting into tears as her real son walked over to her after an explosion of flames.
The prankster took his hijinks to the big screen this year, teaming up with YouTubers Vitaly Z and Dennis Roady for the feature film Natural Born Pranksters.
Atwood, who has also appeared on TBS’s Deal With It, also makes income off his personalized merchandise and a sponsorship with brands like Scott Toilet Paper.
3. Lily Singh
Earned: $7.5 million Subscribers: 10,296,350 subscribers
Comedian Lily Singh took the third spot, with her channel boasting 1.3 billion views
What first started as a method to help deal with depression has made Lily Singh a multi-millionaire.
The Canadian’s Superwoman channel has received more than 1.3billion views since it was launched in 2010, thanks in part to Singh’s impersonations of her parents.
Singh gave up her previous plan of getting a Masters in Psychology and becoming a counselor as her views – and mood – continued to rise.
Her face is now plastered in billboards across Manhattan and Singh has even appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show.
Singh’s videos – with some including ‘What Clubbing Is Like’, ‘Why Bras Are Horrible’ and ‘Types of People You’ll See On Halloween’ – now garner guest stars that include Victoria Justice, Gina Rodriguez and even Michelle Obama.
She has also appeared in YouTube videos with James Franco and Seth Rogen and her YouTube Red documentary premiered in Los Angeles’ iconic Chinese Theater.
Earned: $7million Subscribers: 22,474,510
Ian Andrew Hecox and Daniel Anthony Padilla, both 29, make up the American sketch comedy duo better known by the name of SMOSH
Ian Andrew Hecox and Daniel Anthony Padilla, both 29, make up the American sketch comedy duo better known by the name of SMOSH.
The childhood friends and Sacramento natives are the veterans of the group, joining YouTube just months after it premiered in 2005.
There are various series within the Smosh channel, from parody sketches like ‘Masterchef Millennials’ to ‘The Big What If’, ‘Every Blank Ever’ and even one dedicated to Pokemon-related videos.
Hecox and Padilla have also developed their first scripted long-form series called Part Timers, posting a new episode every week on their channel.
The show was inspired by Hecox’s job at Chuck E. Cheese, where he worked before quitting to dedicate his time to the channel.
Hecox and Padilla became the first YouTubers to have their own wax figures at Madame Tussauds and their second film, featuring rapper T-pain, will debut on YouTube Red later this month.
Their first feature-length film, Smosh: The Movie, is currently streaming on Netflix.
5. Tyler Oakley
Earned: $6million Subscribers: 8,087,829
Tyler Oakley tied for the fifth spot this year, his first time on Forbes list, thanks in part to signing a deal with Ellen DeGeneres to create his own digital talk show
Tyler Oakley tied for the fifth spot this year, his first time on Forbes list, thanks in part to signing a deal with Ellen DeGeneres to create his own digital talk show.
Oakley’s videos range from guessing celebrity abs with Tom Daley, trying strange toys with Kellie Pickler, to interviewing Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.
The 27-year-old, who uploaded his first video in 2007 as a freshman at Michigan State University, also uses his platform to be a prominent advocate for LGBT youth.
Oakley has raised more than a million dollars for The Trevor Project and often posts about issues affecting the LGBT community.
He has been included in OUT Magazine’s Power 50 and The Hollywood Reporter’s Top 25 Digital Stars.
The humorist most recently released his first book of essays, Binge, which became a bestseller Binge.
Oakley did a live show tour in 2014, doing skits in his pajamas, and he finished third in the most recent season of The Amazing Race.
5. Rosanna Pansino
Earned: $6million Subscribers: 7,398,450
Rosanna Pansino is the host of the popular YouTube cooking show Nerdy Nummies, which she calls the original Geeky Cooking Show
Pansino’s skills in the kitchen have brought more than $7million people to her channel, which focuses on recipes inspired by fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, anime, movies, video games and television shows.
Through her videos viewers can learn how to decorate gingerbread houses, and bake unique creations like a Sleeping Beauty Birthday cake or Game of Thrones Direwolf Bread.
The 31-year-old is now raking in the kind of money she first only dreamed of when she began to pursue an acting career years ago.
Pansino appeared in the likes of Parks and Recreation and CSI, even scoring a finalist spot in VH1’s Scream Queens, which offered a role in an upcoming Saw film.
Although she initially started making YouTube videos to get more comfortable in front of the camera, Pansino’s hobby soon turned full-time.
She has since uploaded more than 100 recipes and recently released a cookbook which made the New York Times’ Bestseller List.
Earned: $5.5million Subscribers: 15,523,276
Mark Fischbach’s channel Markiplier, much like PewDiePie, is beloved for the running commentary he gives fans in his ‘Let’s Play’ video game clips
Tied for the seventh spot is gamer Mark Fischbach, better known to his fans by his online pseudonym Markiplier.
Markiplier, much like PewDiePie, is beloved for the running commentary he gives fans in his ‘Let’s Play’ video game clips.
Fischbach, 27, was studying to become a biomedical engineer when he decided to dedicate his attention full-time to his increasingly popular YouTube site.
And it seems the gamer life has opened some doors for him.
Fischbach, a Honolulu native who now lives in Los Angeles, has recently announced plans to try his hand at music and acting, even signing with top talent agency WME.
But if that doesn’t work out, he’ll clearly still be making plenty of cash with his day job.
7. German Garmendia
Earned: $5.5million Subscribers: 30,317,411
Chilean comedian German Garmendia’s channel is the most subscribed channel in Spanish
Although he may only make the seventh spot on YouTube’s highest earners, Garmendia’s channel is the most subscribed channel in the Spanish language.
The comedian has more than 30 million fans subscribed to his channel, where he also posts videos of his band Ancud.
The Chilean native has also released a book – titled #Chupaelperro – and remains so popular a change in his hair color inspires countless articles.
He is also the youngest YouTuber to make the list, making millions at the age of only 26.
9. Colleen Ballinger
Earned: $5million Subscribers: 7,359,094
Colleen Ballinger, better known as ‘Miranda Sings’, tied for the ninth spot on Forbes list
Colleen Ballinger has made millions off her persona Miranda Sings, a tone-deaf singer who believes she is destined for fame.
Miranda has taken 30-year-old Ballinger far, with appearances on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show.
Ballinger has since just debuted a Netflix series, titled Haters Back Off, that’s based on Miranda’s backstory.
The former Off-Broadway actress has also guest co-hosted The View and released the bestseller book Self-Help.
9. Rhett and Link
Earned: $5million Subscribers: 11,545,537
Rhett James McLaughlin and Charles Lincoln ‘Link’ Neal III have also earned the ninth spot thanks to their channel Good Mythical Morning
Rhett James McLaughlin and Charles Lincoln ‘Link’ Neal III are better known as the comedic duo Rhett and Link.
The co-hosts of Good Mythical Morning have been making people laugh together since they met in first grade at an elementary school in Buies Creek, North Carolina.
McLaughlin, 39, and Link, 38, have built a fanbase of their wide-ranging channels that feature episodes like ‘blind taco taste test’ and ‘ridiculous leftover food hacks’.
They also do plenty of challenges, like eating a scorpion or the world’s hottest pepper.
Both men studied engineering at North Carolina State University, graduating and working in big companies before finally deciding to pursue comedy full-time.
They now both live in Los Angeles and run the production company Mythical Entertainment.
TOP 10 HIGHEST-PAID YOUTUBE STARS OF 2016
1. PewDiePie (Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg) $15million
2. Roman Atwood $8million
3. Lily Singh $7.5million
4. SMOSH (Ian Andrew Hecox and Daniel Anthony Padilla) $7million
5. Tyler Oakley $6million
5. Nerdy Nummies $6million
7. Mark Fischbach (Markiplier) $5.5million
7. German Garmendia $5.5million
9. Miranda Sings (Colleen Ballinger) $5million
9. Good Mythical Morning ( Rhett McLaughlin, Charles ‘Link’ Neal III) $5million