The anarchic behaviour of YouTubers draws huge online audiences and has turned stars such as MrBeast and Logan Paul into the best-paid entertainers of the internet age. Now Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, wants a piece of this lucrative action and will attempt to lure video creators on to the social media platform.
In a series of messages, Musk engaged with video-makers, saying he was planning “creator monetization for all forms of content”, and that his company could “beat” the 55% cut of advertising revenue that YouTube gives its top entertainers.
Asked when he would give more details he replied: “Two weeks”.
Although rival sites such as TikTok are rising up the rankings, YouTube generates more money for its creators than any other platform thanks to the scale of its advertising sales, the size of its audience and the structure of its revenue-sharing model.
The best-paid YouTubers earned a collective $300m (£264m) in 2021, according to Forbes, with advertising revenues supplemented by merchandise and back catalogue sales.
Top of the league is MrBeast, AKA 24-year-old Jimmy Donaldson from North Carolina, who began posting videos when he was 13. He took home an estimated $54m last year, trumping the actor Angelina Jolie and the media personality Kim Kardashian, and making him the best-paid YouTuber ever.
A master of the online stunt, MrBeast is best known for spending 50 hours buried alive in a coffin and hosting his own version of Squid Game. Brothers Logan and Jake Paul are among the top 10 earners, having pivoted from filming themselves playing video games and performing pranks to learning how to box and taking on big names – or rival internet stars – in well-publicised fights.
This weekend Twitter started offering a paid-for service, Twitter Blue, which will cost $7.99 a month. The platform does not currently allow long-form video, limiting users to two minutes and 20 seconds. But Musk tweeted on Saturday that subscribers to Twitter Blue would be able to post “chunks” of video up to 42 minutes long.
Those willing to pay to post will also be awarded the blue tick that shows Twitter has verified their identity, a feature typically reserved for public figures such as government officials, journalists and celebrities.
Amid the chaos and distress caused by the summary dismissal of half of Twitter’s 7,500-strong workforce, engineering teams rolled out the new feature at breakneck speed.
Musk acquired Twitter at the end of last month for $44bn, in a deal backed by billions of his own money. The entrepreneur has now set up a war room in the company’s headquarters in San Francisco, where he and a small team of advisers are scrambling to save costs and push out new products.
The first of these was Twitter Blue, rolled out in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Everyday Astronaut, a YouTube creator with 1.3 million subscribers, responded to Musk’s “monetization” tweets with a post stating that he would consider uploading his videos to the site if it could handle full-length videos and pay creators with a YouTube-style system.
In messages with other Twitter users, Musk asked how YouTube monetisation – paying popular creators – works. When informed that YouTube gives creators 55% of ad revenue, he replied: “We can beat that.”
Musk’s comments follow reports that Twitter is considering letting users charge for video content, with the platform taking a cut, although the project has been flagged internally as high risk.
Twitter reportedly considered an Only Fans-style subscription under its previous leadership but abandoned the plan under concerns about being able to police such a service for child sexual abuse material.
Twitter’s current setup for paying creators consists of a “tips” service, where users can give creators money and a “super follows” feature, which allows people to charge users up to $9.99 a month for exclusive tweets.
TikTok makes undisclosed funds available to some creators in the UK, while the user-generated site OnlyFans, which is dominated by pornography, gives creators 80% of their subscription fees.
Twitter makes about 90% of its $5bn in annual revenue from advertising. However, that revenue stream has been damaged by the furore over the Musk takeover as big-name advertisers such as Audi, Carlsberg and United Airlines paused spending amid fears that content moderation standards would slip. Musk tweeted on Friday that there had been a “massive drop” in advertising revenue on the platform.