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Make Those Dollars: How Online Video Stars Pay the Bills
YouTube pre-roll ads are just the beginning. Successful online video stars take a broad approach to monetizing their followers. Options include merch, modeling, and even books.

Last month in this column I told you about this year’s VidCon, and how more platforms than ever took part, including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. But they weren’t there to entertain fans; they were there to woo top talent by showing them how much money they could make.

You might think YouTubers have it made when they can show ads on their channels, but that’s only the first of many ways video stars can make some income. To learn the different options, I spoke with Chris Strong, an influence talent manager with Viral Nation. Showing ads is just the beginning.

Brand Sponsorships. Companies large and small hire “online influencers,” as they’re called, to promote products and services in their videos. That arrangement can extend into the real world, as influencers are sometimes paid to attend high-profile events like the Golden Globes and represent the brand.

Influencers looking for sponsorships need to keep their videos clean and free of copyright strikes. “Make sure that whenever you’re using music you either you have rights to it or it’s royalty-free. Cussing, try to limit that as much as possible,” Strong says.

Brand sponsorships occur most often on YouTube and Instagram. Videos have a longer shelf life on YouTube, so brands see them as a better investment. And viewers of Instagram Stories can swipe up to learn more about a product, which helps with conversion.

Tours. Popular performers can go on tour and meet their fans IRL. Fans love meet-and-greets, because in-person social interaction is one thing YouTube can’t give them.

Merchandise. Another way fans show their support is by buying merchandise. For the creators, this can take different forms. They might hire companies to produce and ship products for them, or they might create their own products and rent out warehouse space.

Courses. Business-savvy influencers can make a lot by teaching online courses. Strong notes ecommerce entrepreneur Jeffrey Bunting teaches courses for $1,500 that he opens to groups of 50 students. They sell out in weeks.

Content ID. YouTube’s Content ID system lets creators see when another channel uploads and shares one of their videos, and gives them the option to have those videos taken down. A better choice, though, is to make ad revenue from those shares. That steady income could turn into checks for $100 to a couple thousand dollars per month, Strong says. Viral Nation works with a company called Collab to collect on hijacked videos.

Exclusive content. Big names can partner with production companies to create exclusive content for subscription services like YouTube Red.

Books. Pretty old-school, right? The biggest online names sometimes pen their own books, and some of those titles end up on the bestseller lists.

Live streaming. Apps like liveMe create a direct relationship between the talent and the audience through live video streams. Fans can shower their favorites with online gifts which typically earn them a few moments of recognition. Those tokens then become payments for the creators. This is one of the better options for smaller creators who are still building a following.

Acting and modeling. As online stars become more a part of the pop culture landscape, they’re finding work in other areas such as acting and modeling. “I have a client whose name is Parker Kit Hill. He was a Viner, a really big Viner, and he transitioned more into the modeling and acting scene and he landed a gig on Comedy Central on Broad City, and he’s doing a variety of different things,” Strong says.

The three key platforms for revenue right now are Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. Views on Snapchat dropped drastically after its ill-reviewed redesign.

“Influencers need to treat their brand as if it’s a business,” Strong adds. “Businesses have multiple streams of income so if one stream doesn’t generate enough revenue, they can at least have other eggs in their nest.”

[This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Make Those Dollars: How Online Video Stars Pay the Bills."]

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