T-Series beat PewDiePie to 100M YouTube subscribers -- is it the end of YouTubers?
Commentary: The short answer is no.
Joan E. SolsmanFormer Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
ExpertiseStreaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation onlineCredentials
Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
If you know only one YouTube star, it's probably PewDiePie, the king of the YouTubers -- but he isn't YouTube's No. 1 anymore.
Earlier this week, Indian music-video and trailer channel T-Series won the race to be the first channel with 100 million subscribers on YouTube. The milestone further sealed T-Series as the winner of a months-long horse race against Felix Kjellberg, the independent video creator known as PewDiePie who ruled YouTube with its most-subscribed-to channel for five years. PewDiePie's channel currently sits at 96 million subscribers, by comparison.
The race, and T-Series' victory, has stoked debate about whether it marks the end of an era for YouTube. Google's massive video site was defined in its first decade as a place to find the independent content creators known as YouTubers (and as a place to binge-watch cat videos). PewDiePie has morphed his video persona over the years. Starting out as an expletive-blurting "let's play" streamer of video-game play, he evolved toward music videos and a specialty in internet meme reviews. But he's always remained a prototypical YouTuber: mostly just a guy with a microphone talking directly to fans.
T-Series, meanwhile, is a channel for a major Indian record label and film production company of the same name. As T-Series nipped at PewDiePie's heels and eventually usurped his crown, the community of YouTubers debated. Was it fair to compare one creator with an entire corporation? And did T-Series' ascendancy mark the end of an age on YouTube that gave rise to a generation of independent video celebrities?
But the site has become a galaxy of genres and audiences, none of which necessarily rules any of the others. A look at YouTube's top trending videos provides a snapshot. At the time of publication, the top 10 trending videos on YouTube included trailers for movies and a video game, a clip from a big broadcast TV show and a pro sports league's post. But half of the top 10 were videos made by YouTubers, like a haunted-house challenge video by MrBeast and a post by one of YouTube's first big stars, Jenna Marbles.
Mass-media brands have advantages of deep pockets and built-in recognition to dominate attention on YouTube. But the site still has an entrenched audience looking for the kind of independent-creator content that defined YouTube for years.
Independent "content creators will always have a chance to come out on top, because people want somebody that they can relate to" Dang Matt Smith, a YouTube creator with more than 8 million subscribers, said in a YouTube video about the subscriber race between PewDiePie and T-Series.
And make no mistake: The battle with T-Series was a boon to PewDiePie's subscriber numbers.
Statistics from social media tracker Social Blade show that Kjellberg's subscription growth follows a fairly steady cadence over the years, with two exceptions. One occurred in February 2017, when his channel saw a dramatic drop and then an immediate spike in subscribers when he was the subject of a Wall Street Journal report about anti-Semitic content on YouTube.
But that craggy section at the end of the chart? That represents months of sustained, extraordinary daily gains in subscribers to PewDiePie's channel, all coinciding with a period in which Kjellberg and others fanned the flames. The threat from T-Series and encouragement from PewDiePie motivated his fan base -- known as his bro army -- to embark on a campaign to keep subscribers streaming to his channel. That included dramatic stunts, like that YouTuber MrBeast buying every billboard in his town to advertise PewDiePie, and fans sneaking a fake page of support onto the Wall Street Journal's website.
PewDiePie's loss to T-Series was one of his biggest wins. Every YouTuber should be so lucky. And with YouTube drawing in more than 2 billion monthly users, there's plenty of space left for YouTubers to endure.