Facebook Live: Where a YouTube star can earn like an Olympic icon

As Facebook turns to online video creators to bolster live-streaming efforts, the lines between mainstream celebrity and internet fame blur.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
Expertise Erin has been a tech reporter for almost 10 years. Her reporting has taken her from the Johnson Space Center to San Diego Comic-Con's famous Hall H. Credentials
  • She has a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.
Erin Carson
3 min read

YouTuber PewDiePie made almost as much as "Guardians of the Galaxy" star Chris Pratt in 2015.


A clamoring mob is a clamoring mob, regardless of who's at the center of the throng.

That's the lesson companies like Facebook are learning about internet celebrities. Is Swedish YouTube personality PewDiePie on par with Brad Pitt? In a sense, it doesn't matter.

In June, The Wall Street Journal found that Facebook is paying celebrities and media outlets to use its new live-streaming service, Facebook Live. Among those celebrities are recognizable names -- names that come from television and sports, like comedian and actor Kevin Hart or Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.

On Tuesday, a new list of names emerged out of a WSJ report. Depending on how entrenched you are in the internet, you may or may not recognize them. There's YouTube comedian Ray William Johnson, who could get up to $224,000 in the span of five and a half months. That's the same amount that Phelps was reportedly paid.

Vine star Jon Paul Piques can earn as much as $119,000.

"We wanted to invite a broad set of partners so we could get feedback from a variety of different organizations about what works and what doesn't," said Facebook's VP of global operations and media partnerships Justin Osofsky in a statement.

Facebook's pursuit of the stars of the very small screen underscores the growing influence of a generation of celebrities that mainstream audiences are clueless about. The thing about fame is it can't exist at all until enough people agree that you have it. While some older folks might scratch their heads about who or what Smosh is, the sketch comedy duo probably has enough of a following that they don't need to worry about it.

The bottom line is that companies are interested in young audiences. As Facebook ages and younger people gravitate to other platforms like Snapchat, drawing in that crowd with the internet famous could spark a new Facebook habit, according to Altimeter analyst Brian Solis.

Solis specializes in digital marketing and cultural shifts, and spoke last month at VidCon -- a conference built around online video.

It's exactly at a place like VidCon that you realize even though "internet famous" might still smack of a lower worth than "Hollywood famous," the line is blurring.

"[Younger millennials and Generation Z] are not watching television, they're not reading magazines the way that younger generations did before them," Solis said. "Their idols are these online creators because their mobile phone is their television screen."

And that doesn't even mean online celebrities exist only online. If you caught "Pitch Perfect 2," then you watched German YouTube celebrity Flula Borg move from the laptop screen to the silver screen. Electronic violinist and dancer Lindsey Stirling's memoir "The Only Pirate at the Party" is a New York Times bestseller. PewDiePie pulled in $12 million before taxes in 2015, Forbes reported. That's just shy of Chris Pratt money -- Forbes lists "Guardians of the Galaxy" star Pratt as having earned $13 million in 2015.

In a way, what's happening is not that great of a departure from the way that Hollywood generally works, Solis said. After all, celebrities get paid to appear at events.

In 2016, that event might just be a live video.