The power of YouTube – video influencers on the advance

YouTube is a global video portal of the US company YouTube LLC and is currently available in 76 different languages. Founded in 2005 by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, YouTube experienced rapid growth and was sold to Google LLC for nearly €1.31 billion just one year after its inception. Since then, the company has been headquartered in the Californian city of San Bruno. YouTube LLC owes its billion-dollar turnover largely to commercials interposed between the video clips.

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After our big interview with The Social Book book author Stephan M. Czaja, we wanted to have another look at YouTube today – especially for your next Bachelor or Master thesis. The founders, the history, the most successful Youtube videos and channels, everything at a glance.

YouTube Founder – With them everything has started

Chad Hurley, Steven Chen and Jawed Karim founded Youtube. It all started with them, the rest is history.

Chad Hurley

Hurley was born in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, in 1977 and studied graphic design after graduating from school. He then found employment as a graphic designer at PayPal, an online payment service provider, where he met YouTubes, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, two co-founders. Together with Chen, Hurley was honored as “Person of the Year” by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Science at the 11th Webby Awards 2007. In addition to their work for YouTube, Hurley and Chen have been working since 2013 on a competing project for Vine and Instagram, a video app called Mixbit.

Steve Chen

Chen was born in 1978 in Taipei, Taiwan and immigrated a few years later with his family to Illinois, USA. Working for PayPal, an online payment services company, he met Hurley and Karim and built the PayPals online payment system with them. Since the founding of YouTubes in 2005, Chen has concentrated mainly on the successful online video portal and has been working on the development of the video app Mixbit for several years.

Jawed Karim

The German-American Karim originally comes from Germany and was born in 1979 in Merseburg an der Saale. In 1992 he moved to Minnesota, USA, where he studied computer science and at the same time financed his studies as an employee of PayPal. During this time, Karim designed PayPal’s real-time anti-fraud system before merging with his colleagues Hurley and Chen in 2005 to found YouTube LLC, now a subsidiary of Google LLC. While Youtube was still growing, Karim turned his back on the project to deepen his knowledge as a computer scientist at Stanford University. In 2008, he founded Y Ventures, an organization focused on providing financial support to underprivileged students and helping them start their own start-up business.

How does YouTube work? A few technical details

The video portal YouTube provides its users with an immense range of different videos and enables them to get in touch with the video artists – also called YouTubers – by means of comments, to rate their videos or to upload their own videos. The general use of YouTube is available to everyone free of charge, but for uploading videos and archiving the videos in favorites or similar lists, as well as the commenting function, a Google account or a Google+ membership is now required.

The online video portal YouTube runs under the two web servers Apache and Lighttpd and now supports video formats in html5. The programming language is Python, whereas the database management is done by MySQL. Although not intended by the YouTube founders Hurley, Chen and Karim, YouTube videos can be archived offline. It is recommended to use the software Filsh, but there are other ways to save the videos on a hard disk or USB stick.

Video publications of up to 12 hours

YouTube videos are published under certain conditions. Although many different video formats are supported, the recommended minimum resolution of 480×360 should be considered. Higher resolutions are of course possible and welcome, but a maximum file size of 20 GB per video and a maximum duration of 15 minutes is generally only allowed. Using an account verification via SMS, video artists can deactivate these restrictions and publish videos with up to 128 GB file volume or a duration of 12 hours. This allows video producers to upload their videos in 3D or HDR, select a resolution of 4k2k or even 8k or use the 360° function.

A video makes history: “Me at the zoo”

The very first video uploaded to the online video portal was made by YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim himself. It went online on 23.04.2005 and has the title “Me at the zoo”.

New on YouTube: Development

In the course of its rapid development, the online video portal YouTube has undergone several changes. From its founding by Hurley, Chen and Karim in 2005 to its acquisition by Google LLC just over a year later, YouTube has evolved technically and visually, tried out new aspects and optimized itself.

YouTube Analytics – the numbers to success

How successful a video or a YouTube channel is can be seen by the respective user under YouTube Analytics. Similar to Google Analytics, this analysis service calculates the average number of views, likes and followers, the bounce rate of users and many other aspects of use, making it a valuable tool for measuring one’s own success.

YouTube Affiliate Program – grow together and earn money

Since 2007 YouTube has been offering a so-called affiliate program for video artists, which enables producers to earn real money with their videos. YouTuber are often organized in cross-channel cooperations, also known as Multi-Chanel-Network, or MCN for short.

YouTube TV & YouTube Movies

For some time there has been a cooperation between YouTube and the channels of some big TV stations, which runs under the name YouTube TV. Since YouTube functions as a platform for a broad mass of videos, a separate area for professional cinema films and documentaries was introduced under the name YouTube Movies, which has been available in Germany since 2012 after a test run in the USA.

Original channels – with YouTube as sponsor

In 2012, the online video portal YouTube was expanded to include a further function, namely original channels. Unlike regular YouTube channels, original channel owners receive financial and other support from YouTube itself. The first original channel of this kind on YouTube was “Ponk” – a channel from the comedy category that will stop publishing its videos at the end of 2014 after the sponsorship programme expires in the winter of 2013. A total of 13 original channels in Germany were temporarily supported by YouTube.

YouTube Spaces – London to Berlin

A further innovation are the YouTube Spaces – professional studios for sound and picture recording and the most modern equipment in selected cities worldwide. The YouTube Spaces are designed to support the online video portal company through production capacity and sophisticated training, and are targeted at the most successful partners in the YouTube Partner Program. The first YouTube Space was opened in London in July 2012, followed by another studio in Los Angeles in November of the same year. Directly in February 2013 the doors of YouTube Space Tokyo opened and one and a half years later New York City was also equipped with a YouTube Space. In April 2015, Germany’s first YouTube Space was opened in Berlin.


Despite attempted competition from Clipfish, which has been running under the name Watchbox since last year, and MyVideo, YouTube is still the undisputed market leader in Germany and beyond. Europe has its own YouTube festival, the Videodays, at which YouTuber from all parts of the continent come together, exchange ideas and meet their stars in person. In the USA, on the other hand, VidCon – the world’s largest video convention – is held annually and is strongly influenced by YouTubes video artists and producers.

The most successful YouTube videos of all time

Based on the status of 2017, there are now 73 videos that can record over a billion views – of which an impressive 70 are videos from the music section. Mostly clicked is the music video “Despacito” by artist Luis Fonsi with more than 5 billion hits and with more than 17 million “like me” entries also mostly clicked. “Despacito” replaces the music video “See you again” by Whiz Khalifa and “Gangnam Style”, which was only one month in first place and which was the most clicked video on YouTube for 4 years. The success story of music videos on YouTube thus sets a clear sign and almost completely replaces music television, which was so successful in the 1990s.

Shadow sides

Since YouTube has been available for video artists and Vlogger as a source of income, there are always ambitious people who take their job too seriously or are not satisfied with their sales. But there are also states that use Youtube for their purposes or even block it.

Shooting at the YouTube Center

Just recently there was a shooting at the official YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California – on April 3 of this year, the successful influencer Nasim Najafi Aghdam armed herself with a pistol and stormed the YouTube headquarters out of rage over too little advertising revenue. This statement can at least be seen on Aghdam’s website, where the 350,000 followers of Aghdam were very negative about YouTube’s remuneration. On her way, Aghdam injured at least three people, one of them seriously, and eventually succumbed to her own gunshot wounds.


The wide range of videos as well as the general freedom of expression of the platform does not lead to popularity in all countries of the world. Especially since YouTube is now used more and more for political discourse and propaganda as well as for the exchange of critical and philosophical ideas, in some countries the use of YouTube was temporarily blocked by the government, while in other parts of the world until today a complete blockage prevails.


In Turkey there have been three closures of YouTubes so far. The first closure took place in 2007, followed by a brief lifting of the closure and another censorship, which lasted almost two and a half years, denying Turkish residents the use of the popular video portal. The last time the population was denied access was in March 2014.


The online video portal in Pakistan was closed for the first time in 2007, similar to Turkey. After several years of usage rights the Pakistani had to renounce the videos of their favourite YouTuber again in 2010 and since 2012 YouTube is no longer available in the whole country.


In Iran, YouTube was blocked for the first time in 2006. This was followed by small time windows in which the population was allowed to use the online video portal, and time windows in which YouTube was subject to censorship. Since the election of the current head of state in 2009, however, access to YouTube is finally prohibited for Iranians.


Libya followed the example of Pakistan and Iran and decided in 2010 to ban the use of YouTube indefinitely.


Morocco also attempted to block the online video portal in 2008, but decided at the end of the year to lift the restriction.


In China, all video portals on the Internet are completely blocked. Since 2008, YouTube has been completely blocked with only a few interruptions, as online video portals in China may only be operated by state-controlled companies according to a government resolution in order to protect the inhabitants from false reports and inappropriate influences.


In Thailand there was a short-term ban from 2006 to 2007, but since then the gates of the video portal have again been open to all Thais.

What makes Youtuber successful?

The success principle of Youtubern is actually quite simple: a healthy dose of authenticity as well as a selection of topics that is exactly adapted to the desired target group. Both results, viewers feel addressed and are picked up thematically. In addition, many people in the target group can identify with the Youtuber, which shares private information and makes it appear more humane.

The choice of topic – which segment suits me?

An important decision for every Youtuber is the choice of topics. The currently most successful segments are primarily video and computer games and music, but beauty and comedy channels are also very popular. The ideal length of a video contribution depends directly on the content and genre. For example, the average duration in the music and entertainment segment is 5 minutes, while for video games it is just under 15 minutes.

Personality – the trademark of a Youtuber

Personality is a very important point, because through your charisma and attitude you don’t just stand out from the competition, you can also place yourself better. Self-irony and a pinch of humour complete the overall picture. Successful Youtuber are interactive, funny and honest. They are fun to have for everyone and can laugh about their own weaknesses and mishaps – together with their fans. Often there are excerpts of missed scenes or funny slip-ups at the end of a video contribution to convey to the fans that their Youtube star at the end of the day is still just a human being, just like herself.

Communication & Networking – the secret recipe for more range

The secret recipe for a successful Youtube video is the inclusion of the viewer. By a direct greeting directly at the beginning – the so-called “opener” – the viewer feels immediately welcome and valued. Direct addressing as a red thread through the video, questions as well as requests for comments and likes also ensure more activity on the part of the viewers and commitment is one of the keys to Youtube success. Another aspect that should not be underestimated is networking. Using multiple accounts on different social networks – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… – results in a stronger distribution and users of different networks are reached. At the same time, users of multiple networks – today almost a standard in the social media sector – will be more loyal to their subscriptions because content is communicated to them everywhere.

Youtuber – the most popular influencers?

If you start your own influencer career, the question “Why Youtube?” certainly arises somewhere in the course of your considerations. The answer is simple: Youtubers are popular. According to the US magazine “Variety”, Youtuber are even more popular than most movie stars or singers. Although stars and celebrities show more work and performance, and certain basic prerequisites such as talent, charisma and visual attributes are also given, the popularity barometer Youtuber shows them right at the top. The reason for this is reflected in the recipe for success, which has already been briefly outlined above. Youtubers are approachable and authentic, they have a certain kind of communication and accessibility that is very attractive to their fan community and that a musician or actor does not or does not want to give to the same extent. Excluded from this are of course stars who know the power of Youtube and other social media networks and know how to use it for themselves.

More about this topic?

Fans & Community – being part of a whole

Since many Youtube influencers are not involved in their jobs to the same extent as actors, for example, they simply have more time to respond to their viewers. The intensive communication with their fan community ensures a direct togetherness and gives the followers and viewers a feeling of belonging. Some Youtubers further strengthen this feeling through the implementation of user suggestions and self-organized fan meetings. A Youtube channel lives on its fans, so influencers on Youtube who want to be successful have to adapt to the expectations of their fans.

Create connectedness – but how?

In different segments the interaction with the fans can be completely different. In the Fashion segment, for example, so-called unboxings – the unpacking of parcels first or the presentation of the latest clothing purchases – simulate a situation of a joint shopping tour, while make-up tips on beauty channels reflect a situation you might experience with your best friend. On channels that specialize in video and computer games, real game insights are used to simulate playing games together, and tips on hardware and software are similar to the technical discussions among like-minded people. All these situations create a feeling of solidarity, the Youtube star becomes the “best friend” or the “best girlfriend”.

Youtube – Job or financial injection

A few years ago, the fact that you can actually earn money with Youtube as an influencer led to great astonishment. But nowadays the full-time use of the popular social media network is not only welcomed, it also finds great support from Youtube itself. Large channels with a large reach are of course particularly attractive for Youtube, which is why a high level of awareness for influencers on Youtube is another key to success. Because a high degree of awareness ensures more subscribers, a larger number of subscribers brings a higher rate of clicks, and more clicks bring the Youtube star not only more money but also more success, which in turn leads to more awareness and more subscribers. A simple principle, but no less effective.

Advertisements on Youtube – Sell advertising

If a Youtuber has reached a certain degree of popularity, advertisements are an interesting aspect for increasing money. As soon as the monetization of a Youtube channel takes place – i.e. the imputation of a monetary value based on an object, activity or event – the Youtuber can network with selected advertising providers. Since advertising providers naturally want to use the reach of the youtube to present their own products to as many people as possible, a high level of user activity – i.e. high traffic – is of decisive importance in addition to reach. If it is a high traffic channel, the Youtuber can generate advertising revenue through its viewers.

More about this topic:

Brand Placements – targeted advertising

A type of advertising revenue focused on the target group of the youtube is the so-called brand placement. Here the brands often approach the influencers, as they have become aware of them through their relevant contributions on Youtube. If the Youtuber addresses a similar or even the same target group as the brand, the brand is prepared to pay for active and passive placements and product promotions. Custom videos, in which the Youtuber tells his viewers personally and individually about a product test, or storyline integration, in which the product is cleverly included in a pre-planned contribution, are the most common choice for the application. Sometimes a Youtube channel starts up so well that a brand collaboration comes into conversation. This is a sales talk with the brand, in which the channel statistics on target group, reach, accomplishments and best videos are examined in addition to a correspondingly high number of subscribers.

Merchandising – self-promotion for the Youtuber

Everybody’s next to themselves, they say. So it’s not surprising that a successful Youtube star with a large fan base also has his own merchandise, as he is his own brand after all. The design and offering of channel-bound merchandise can have a very positive impact on a channel’s image and lead to even greater reach and subscriber numbers. A huge boost for your own canal! At the same time, merchandise also leads to further interaction with fans, something a Youtuber can never have too little of. The Youtuber can directly test which designs are best received and for which products the fans are willing to spend money by involving the fans directly in the design draft of the products matching the segment. Extremely practical: since the Youtuber itself is its own brand, it can also actively advertise its merchandise on its channel, announce new product launches and generally make its personal advertising as interesting and versatile as possible.

Red Subscriptions – advertise free videos

From a technical point of view, red subscriptions are not advertisements, they are rather the disappearance of advertising. If a Youtuber has reached a certain level of reach and subscribers, he can take advantage of the Red Subscriptions from Youtube: if listed accordingly, viewers can book an Ad-Free subscription, which ensures trouble-free viewing of a video without advertising interruption. With a high watch time, Youtube rewards its influencer and pays monthly so that the channel remains listed. A clever influencer of course takes advantage of this to promote his channel as advertising-free.

Crowdfunding & Fan Funding – let others pay

A crowdfunding campaign is the perfect way to start your Youtube career or to realize certain projects. Possible platforms for this are of course the well-known Kickstarter and Patreon, but also IndieGoGo and Subbable are good alternatives. In any case, fans must be persuaded to invest. The goals of the Youtube must be clearly formulated and structured, a division into several goal stages, for example, has proven very successful. The call for help by video contributions on Youtube is the decisive trick here, in order to use its range optimally and to draw the viewers’ attention to its projects.

Fan Funding is a generalized way for fans to invest in their Youtube star. For a small fee, a donation box can be set up for the Youtube channel, which works without a direct target commitment and flows directly to the Youtuber. Criteria for this are a sufficiently good placement on Youtube as well as a Youtube partnership and the AdSense Account Approval, i.e. the agreement of Google AdSense to link its own channel with that of the Youtube and to place selected advertising there. Currently, fan funding is only possible for Youtuber with citizenship of Australia, France, Mexico, Spain, Great Britain, the USA and Japan, but will be extended to the rest of the world in the next few years.

The most successful Youtuber

The numerical values for uploads (“ups”), subscriptions (“subs”) and views are of course only approximate and rounded values, since a Youtube channel is constantly changing and only snapshots are possible. However, the relation of the individual values shows that even channels with only a few uploaded videos can be successful, and a high number of subscribers is not always synonymous with a high number of views.

The Top 10 German Youtuber

  1. Colors for Kids Gummy Bear Gummi Bear Song, Type: Entertainment
    Ups 70, subs 254,000, views 229,000 – active since 2014
  2. SladjaAllegro, Type: Music
    Ups 80, subs 152,000, views 216,000,000 – active since 2012
  3. SurpriseJoe, Type: Entertainment
    Ups 25, subs 1,453,000, views 90,185,000 – active since 2015
  4. ArkivaShqip, Type: Entertainment
    Ups 6,100, subs 2,238,000, views 3,685,425,000 – active since 2009
  5. HD Corleone, Type: Entertainment
    Ups 525, subs 530,000, views 500,000,000 – active since 2010
  6. One Piece Theorist, Type: Film
    Ups 415, subs 111,000, views 26,470,000 – active since 2014
  7. MySpass, Type: Entertainment
    Oops 5,300, subs 1,412,000, views 1,918,291,000 – active since 2009
  8. Galileo, Type: Entertainment
    Ups 2,580, subs 1,807,000, views 1,150,000,000 – active since 2013
  9. ProfasiaGaming, Type: Games
    ps 970, subs 911,000, views 822,445,000 – active since 2010TEAM KUKU, type: music

Oops 40, subs 988,000, views 215,301,000 – active since 2016

The German Top 10 shows that a colourful mix of old channels and channels from recent years is popular with users and is the most represented segment “Entertainment”. A closer look at the individual criteria reveals a broader pattern.

The top 5 with the most subscriptions in Germany

  1. freekickerz, Type: Sports – with almost 6.468.000 subscribers
  2. Summary – In a Nutshell, Type: Education – with about 6.311.000 subscribers
  3. BibisBeautyPalace, type: HowTo – with about 5,148,000 subscribers
    and Julien Bam (type: Entertainment) and Gronkh (type: Games) on places 4 and 5

The top 5 with the most views in Germany

  1. Kontor.TV, Type: Music – with almost 4,461,427,000 views
  2. ArkivaShqip, type: Entertainment – with about 3,684,473,000 views
  3. Gronkh, type: Games – with about 2.637.126.000 views
    as well as PietSmiet and The Voice Kids (both type: Entertainment) on places 4 and 5

It becomes interesting when you look at the most popular Youtube channels in the world, how long they have existed and which countries are particularly represented. There is a clear tendency towards videos of Indian origin and music in general.

The top 10 worldwide

  1. T-Series – India, Type: Music
    Ups 12,350, subs 48,165,000, views 39,256,000,000 – active since 2006
  2. Planet Records Miami Cuba – Italy, Type: Music
    Ups 155, subs 873,000, views 774,000,000 – active since 2012
  3. SET India – India, Type: Shows
    Ups 26,170, subs 25,100,000, views 18,891,870,000 – active since 2006
  4. Zee TV – India, Type: Entertainment
    Ups 74,160, subs 14,789,000, views 16,379,389,000 – active since 2005
  5. Movieclips – USA, Type: Movie
    Ups 30,000, subs 12,867,000, views 13,728,704,000 – active since 2006

Ranking by subscription – the top 3

  1. PewDiePie with about 63,268,000 subs (USA, type: comedy)
  2. T series with almost 48,165,000 subs (India, type: music)
  3. Justin Bieber with about 39,350,000 subs (Canada, type: Entertainment)

Ranking by views – the top 3

  1. T-Series with about Views (India, Type: Music)
  2. WWE with almost 23,270,000,000 views (USA, type: Sports)
  3. Ryan ToysReview with about Views (USA, Type: Entertainment)

If you look at the tags that can be added to the channels on Youtube, you will see the following picture.

For the area #FASHION

  1. Its JoJo Siwa – USA, active since 2015 with over 6.6 million subs
  2. Телеканал THT – Russia, active since 2007 with nearly 760 million views
  3. Fashion Channel – Italy, active since 2006 with impressive 31.212 ups
    as well as Brooklyn and Bailey and dope2111 on place 6 and 9 respectively (both USA), CHANEL (France) on place 12 and Jana Taffarel (Brazil) on place 15

For the range #STYLE

  1. Tasty (USA)
  2. Hashak Sisters (USA)
  3. SaraBeautyCorner – DIY, Comedy, Makeup, Nail Arts (Norway)

For the range #BEAUTY

  1. Natalies Outlet (USA)
  2. SandraCiresArt (USA)
  3. Narins Beauty (Sweden)

A quick look at the top influencers in Instagram – according to followers – shows a clear focus on the music segment. The most successful Insta stars are therefore successful musicians and athletes. Here is a comparison of their subscribers on Instagram and Youtube:

Top Star Influencer – Instagram & Youtube

  1. Instagram (ID 25025320)
    Instagram: ~ 234.000.000 (Ø 32.760 per day) | Youtube: –
  2. Selena Gomez (ID 460563723)
    Instagram: ~ 135,500,000 (Ø 36,880 per day) | Yooutube: ~ 18,940,000 subscribers
  3. Christiano Ronaldo (ID 173560420)
    Instagram: ~ 123.330.000 (Ø 49.150 per day) | Youtube: ~ 960,000 subscribers
  4. Ariana Grande (ID 7719696)
    Instagram: ~ 118.320.000 (Ø 9.300 per day) | Youtube: ~ 23,945,000 subscribers
  5. Beyonce (ID 247944034)
    Instagram: ~ 113.500.000 (Ø 42.150 per day) | Youtube: ~ 16,370,000 subscribers

Kim Kardashian West (ID 18428658), Taylor Swift (ID 11830955), Kylie Jenner (ID 12281817) as well as Therock (ID 232192182) and Justin Bieber (ID 6860189) in places 9 and 10.

Interview: Stephan M. Czaja (author of The Social Book)