We’ve always known the same people that once looked down on our “cute little internet videos” would be scrambling to get involved in this industry sooner rather than later. However, it’s hard to believe just how much of a leading role YouTubers and other online content creators now take in the wider entertainment industry. In 2014, we’ve already seen YouTubers sing alongside some of the biggest musical acts in the world, star in some of the year’s most popular movies, and earn enough to put some of the biggest celebrities on the planet to shame.
Now as we turn the page on a new year, America’s leading business magazine Forbes has continued to recognize this ongoing trend and honor some of the most popular online talents in their latest 30 under 30 – A definitive list of innovative young people who are setting the blueprint for the next generation.
Among the 600 people recognized this year stands beauty guru Michelle Phan; who was featured in the list’s Art & Style category, and for good reason. At just 27 years old she has become the embodiment of the American Dream. As a child, she slept on the floor of a small apartment with her siblings after her mother fled their father, who was a compulsive gambler.
Even at the start of her YouTube career she would recommend budget alternatives to common beauty products out of necessity; recommending the use of cat litter when she couldn’t afford a clay mask. Now, just a few short years later she is one of the most popular creators on YouTube, with more than 7 million subscribers and over 1 billion total views. A popularity she expertly leveraged to launch her own line of makeup with L’Oreal, ink a reality-TV deal with Endemol, and launch ipsy; a beauty product subscription service that surpassed $84 million in annual revenue last year and is expected to bring in over $120 million in 2015.
Clearly Phan is doing something right, but she’s not the only one.
The bearded wonder Harley Morenstein, 29, is also featured in the Hollywood and Entertainment category of the Forbes 30 under 30.
While his inclusion was likely the sole result of his astute insider analysis of the economics of content creation in the video above, it’s also worth noting that Morenstein has redefined how brands are built on YouTube. What started as a poorly shot video of two friends eating pizza grew into the unique, aorta-busting, macho cooking show Epic Meal Time; which now stands as one of the biggest channels on the platform with over 700 million views. Over the past year, after the successful launch of a cookbook and kitchen utensil line, Morenstein oversaw Epic Meal Time’s jump over to television with a 16-episode run of the 30-minute semi-scripted comedy cooking show Epic Meal Empire.
Freddie Wong, 29, also appears on the list. Fresh off the third and final season of his incredibly popular web series Video Game High School (VGHS), Wong and his team at digital movie studio RocketJump have been the harbingers of true innovation not only in how long-form content on the web is created, but also how it’s financed. The third season of VGHS broke the record for the largest amount of money ever crowd-funded for a web series with a remarkable $900,907 offered by more than 10,000 people. Now, it appears they’re innovating once again after signing a multi-year content partnership deal with Lionsgate that will see the global entertainment company, which has already produced films like The Hunger Games and The Expendables, finance and aid in the distribution of RocketJumps future tv and feature-length projects.
Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg also makes an appearance on the list. Kjellberg dominates YouTube as the most subscribed person on the platform. With over 33 million subscribers, this 25-year-old’s reach and influence has become the envy of major television networks and movie studios all over the world.
Other honorees include Hannah Hart, 28, who is fresh off the success of her hit movie Camp Takota. John A. Baker Jr. (better known as Spoken Reasons) is also included in recognition of his recent Hollywood success starring alongside Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in “The Heat” after building a successful YouTube channel with over 1 million subscribers. Actor/comedian/musician Bo Burnham also makes the list. While Burnham has become a rare sight on YouTube, to the dismay of his 800,000 YouTube subscribers no doubt, after penning MTV teen-comedy “Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous” and selling out countless stand-up comedy tours his place on the list is more than deserved.
A special mention must also go to 23-year-old Nikki Fancy. Fancy is the Head of Programming Strategy at YouTube MCN Maker Studios. She started as an intern at the company and worked her way up the corporate ladder; founding Maker’s innovative music initiative and bringing Epic Rap Battles (one of Maker’s most popular and lucrative pieces of content) under the Maker umbrella along the way. Although she’s not a household name by any means, in just a few short years at the company she has already played a key role in the success of one of the largest businesses operating in the YouTube ecosystem, making her more than deserving of a place on the 30 under 30.
We are truly living in a new world where the talented young people named above stand alongside the likes of Zac Efron, Keira Knightly, Emma Watson, and Ansel Elgort; whose biggest film of 2014 was an adaptation of a book penned by vlogbrother John Green.
Online video has always favored the innovative and the young, such as YouTube’s global head of content development Bing Chen, Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox (Smosh), Grace Helbig, Issa Rae, and actor/singer/producer/director/etc… Todrick Hall, who held the vanguard of new media’s evolution in last year’s 30 under 30 list.