Michael Groth is a senior at Rice University in Houston, Texas, wrapping up his engineering studies after four years.
But he will graduate as a video star.
Groth is known worldwide by fans of the Japanese game and cartoon phenomenon Pokeman, who have flocked to his MandJTV Pokevids channel on YouTube, where he has close to a half-million subscribers.
And he’s already making money.
His YouTube stardom began less than a year ago when he posted a Pokemon-themed video he created. When he checked back some days later, he found it had over 10,000 views, more than anything he had ever posted before.
“Then I realized this thing could get over a million views,” he said in an interview with Rice University.
The video eventually climbed to nearly 10 million views. YouTube pays contributors whose videos “go viral” and generate advertising revenue. So, as Groth added more videos, his fan base grew and his earnings increased.
“It just suddenly grew and I started making money off of it,” he said.
YouTubers earn money from advertising. Beginners with tens of thousands of views may be paid only pennies per thousand, while some YouTube stars with billions of hits have been known to make over $15,000,000 a year. That’s how much Swedish vlogger Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, who calls himself PewDiePie, made last year.
Groth could have earned up to $70,000 with his nearly-10-million hit video.
Now that he is about to graduate, he plans to devote more time to his videos, not only for the money that can help him pay back student loans, but for the enjoyment he gets from making them.
“The fact that I have had enough success on YouTube to where I can support myself off of it is a real blessing,” Groth said. “I am really excited to get on into the real world and start making really fun videos that make people smile, my job.”
While he creates lots of visuals, including animations, and utilizes good quality cameras and equipment, many other successful video bloggers (or vloggers) take a much simpler approach, setting up a camera and talking to it, then editing and touching up the video with computer editing programs.
One successful vlogger who has taken this approach is Andy Lalwani, a junior media arts student at American University in Washington. In a Skype interview with VOA, he said he started posting his videos mainly to express his personal views and to focus on his friends and their interests. He was surprised to find thousands of viewers watching his creations and helping him earn money.
“In the beginning I just wanted to get my voice out there,” he said. “I didn’t realize I could make a living off of being myself online.”
YouTube has become a major player in entertainment media because of both individual videos that draw huge numbers, as well as commercial videos, some that the company finances.
YouTube claims it reaches more people between the ages of 18 and 49 than any U.S. cable network, with an average viewing time of 40 minutes. While television industry spokesmen say their audience overall is still much larger than YouTube, there is no question that younger people are not as hooked on TV watching as were previous generations and are more inclined to watch videos on their smart phones and tablets.
There are now many other video platforms online, including Facebook, which recently established an upload function but does not monetize the videos. Market researcher SMI has reported that over $1 billion of advertising moved from television to digital media in recent years. Close to 200 million Americans now watch online videos every month. The industry is constantly changing, with new platforms and services appearing all the time, but Lalwani is not concerned that his modest contributions will be swept aside.
“People do ask if this is going to last and I can honestly say it is just getting started,” he said.
One of his communication school professors, Scott Talan, agrees.
“Video in its end is often about storytelling,” he said. “There’s always other platforms that will keep this storytelling alive. The shape might change, the name might change, the cost might change, but moving pictures and sound is a really strong sensory combination for people.”
Talan said large media companies, realizing that they are losing many people, especially those 35 and younger, to videos they can watch on their smart phones and tablets, are now scrambling to adapt. Some television producers, for example, have enticed YouTube stars to appear in programs and produce content that can be used both on cable and on the internet.
But Talan said there is more to the impact of digital media than the number of hits a video gets online. There is also the influence it can have on each person who views it.
“We shouldn’t always be so worried about the numbers,” Talan said. “For example, if someone did a video and it only had one viewer, but that viewer was the president of a country; that’s a really influential blogger. It is not just the numbers, it is who’s watching.”
Talan says his students who want to produce online videos will continue to have opportunities going forward to both earn money and connect with other people around the world.