Disney drops PewDiePie over anti-Semitic YouTube videos

The world's biggest YouTuber gets cut loose from Disney after posting a series of videos with anti-Semitic content to his channel.

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YouTube star PewDiePie is feeling the backlash.

Disney has parted ways with Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, after he posted anti-Semitic videos to his YouTube channel.

Google's YouTube, meanwhile, said it has canceled the second season of Kjellberg's reality show, "Scare PewDiePie," and is removing his channel from an elite Google Preferred ads program accessible to top creators.

The show is on YouTube's paid service, Red, and isn't directly linked to Kjellberg's typical videos, which were how he built his channel into the most subscribed worldwide on Google's massive video service.

With 53 million subscribers to that page, PewDiePie represents the pinnacle of YouTube stardom, with his foul-mouthed videos of video-game play and wisecracks translating into a multimillion-dollar business. The fallout with Disney also underscores how this new kind of celebrity can clash with traditional media machines as the two sides grow more intertwined.

PewDiePie has been a powerhouse on YouTube.

YouTube screenshot by CNET

On Saturday, Kjellberg posted a video (now deleted) that showed him laughing as two men held up a banner that read "death to all Jews." Since August 2016, he had posted nine videos with anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi iconography, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Not long before Disney and YouTube Red broke ties with him, Kjellberg on Sunday acknowledged that the jokes were "ultimately offensive" in a post on his Tumblr page.

"As laughable as it is to believe that I might actually endorse these people, to anyone unsure on my standpoint regarding hate-based groups: No, I don't support these people in any way," he wrote.

The Disney-Kjellberg relationship came via Maker Studios, a business acquired by Disney in 2014 that represents YouTube artists. PewDiePie was Maker's biggest star, but leading up to the Disney takeover, he was a bigger asset to Maker than the other way around.

The Disney purchase has resulted in some conflict with Kjellberg before, such as when the media giant sent "Star Wars" stormtroopers to his apartment to shoot a crossover video. The actors arrived upset they didn't have a changing room and Disney's side vetoed his suggestions because it wasn't in keeping with the "Star Wars" universe, according to an interview with Icon.

"I don't want Pewdiepie to be some kind of trademark that I lose control over," he said at the time.

But recently Disney had put more weight behind Kjellberg, last year launching a media brand, Revelmode, spearheaded by him.

This also isn't the first time Disney has dropped a deal over concerns for its family-friendly image. Last year, it reportedly walked away from a buyout of Twitter, in part because of its reputation as a place for bullying.

Disney-owned Maker Studios said that "although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate. Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward."

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a social-justice nonprofit, said Disney and YouTube cutting ties was the right thing to do. "It's despicable," Heidi Beirich, the director of the group's intelligence project, said of the videos.

Originally posted Feb. 13 at 8:54 p.m. PT.
Updated Feb. 14 at 9:45 a.m. PT: Adds YouTube's statement, Kjellberg's comments about the videos and background about his relationship with Disney and Maker.
Updated Feb. 14 at 11:07 a.m. PT: Adds Southern Poverty Law Center comment.

Updated Feb 15 at 7:25 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Maker Studios.

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