Can you really become a YouTube millionaire?

Fancy earning $7m a year? All you have to do is upload a few videos to YouTube…

At least that is the case for the Swedish video-game commentator ‘PewDiePie’, who currently ranks as the video-sharing site’s biggest star, writes Ben Flanagan. His short and sometimes shrieky videos have attracted an astronomical 9.5 billion views, helping propel the 25-year-old into stardom – and a six-figure salary.

But striking it rich on YouTube is not, of course, as simple as making a few home videos – something many professional uploaders in the Middle East have found.

It is certainly possible to make money from the site, either from a one-off viral hit, or by having a consistent string of popular uploads. The Google-owned site’s official partners get to keep about 55 percent of the advertising revenue derived from videos they upload, which – in PewDiePie’s case, at least – can amount to millions.

But YouTube ads don’t quite add up like that for some professional YouTube uploaders in the Middle East.

Sima Najjar, the Founder / CEO of ekeif
Sima Najjar, the Founder / CEO of ekeif

Sima Najjar, based in Jordan, is the founder of the ‘how-to’ site eKeif, which began life in 2012 as a YouTube channel while its main website was still under construction. Its videos, in Arabic, include guides on everything from beauty tips and cookery to health and family advice.

The eKeif YouTube channel (‘keif’ means ‘how’ in Arabic) now has more than 161,800 subscribers, and 46 million video views, with about 55 percent coming from Saudi Arabia. Hit videos include one on how to put braids in your hair and another on how to stop pans from boiling over by putting a wooden spoon on top (who knew?).

Ms Najjar said her company – an official YouTube Partner – produces between 40 and 50 videos a month, using both an in-house team and freelancers. But while she says the company earns revenues amounting to thousands of dollars a month from YouTube, this does not cover the expense of creating the videos in the first place.

“It’s not going to pay all the bills, that’s for sure,” Ms Najjar said.

“For us, because it’s a huge team and we have a pool of freelancers and the in-house team and we have marketing expenses, we actually have a lot of expenses to pay that cannot be covered only from YouTube.”

Ms Najjar said she would like YouTube to give more support to companies specialising in creating videos. But she said it is still a “great platform”, given it can be used to both make money, drive traffic to your website, and get feedback on what kind of videos users want.

Another Middle Eastern start-up with a strong YouTube presence is the Arabic-language parenting site, which typically produces about five videos a week. The site, which launched in 2011, currently has about 230,000 YouTube subscribers and more than 32 million video views.

Yasmine El Mehairy, the Egypt-based co-founder of SuperMama, said video was becoming more and more important for the site.

“You can’t just depend on written text content. Because now most mothers are active on their phones, they’re in a hurry, they don’t want to read the answers,” she said.

SuperMama videos are typically short and include interviews with doctors with topics designed to appeal to new and expectant mums, as well as DIY and home tips. One of the most popular videos, which detailed how to prepare a pomegranate, attracted about 100,000 views in three days, Ms El Mehairy said.

But SuperMama, like eKeif, does not make big bucks from YouTube – with revenues amounting to thousands of dollars on a good month, or just hundreds during Ramadan when many Arab viewers choose to watch dramas on TV.

“We do make money off YouTube, but it does not by any means cover our costs regarding our video production,” said Ms El Mehairy, pointing to expenses such as salaries for a camera operator and scriptwriter.

But, she added, there were other advantages in using YouTube, such as making it easier to build audiences.

“Video is the way to go in the future,” she said. “We’re not making as much as we would like to out of it. But at least we know that we are building in the right direction, so that eventually one day it will pay off.”

Other positive signs for Middle Eastern video creators are the continued strong uptake of video in the region – Saudi Arabia has the world’s highest per-capita consumption of YouTube – as well as the emergence of other global video platforms that pay uploaders.

These include Vessel, launched by former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar – which reportedly pays video creators 70 percent of ad revenue, 15 percentage points more than YouTube. And Facebook is also experimenting with sharing ad revenue as it looks to take on Google’s video giant.

All that means there could soon be more ways for Middle East video stars to grab a slice of the PewDiePie.

Three famous uploaders and what they earn:

 PewDiePie: $7m in 2014                           

He’s YouTube’s biggest star – and has a pay cheque to match. Video-game commentator Felix Kjellberg, 25, known to fans as PewDiePie, earned $7m in 2014, it was reported in July. The star has more than 38 million followers on YouTube and his videos have clocked up an incredible 9.5 billion views. The income comes mainly from a cut of YouTube advertising, but also some product-placement deals, it was reported.

Charlie Bit My Finger’: $155,000+ after 400m views

Child nibbles another child’s finger. Dad earns more than £100,000 ($155,000). So it went for Brit Howard Davies-Carr, who in 2007 uploaded to YouTube a short video of his two sons – involving, you guessed it, one biting the finger of another – which ended up going viral. In 2012, the Guardian reported the video had earned its creator more than £100,000 after 400 million views. It has now received more than double that number of views.

Fenton the Dog!’: $775 in 24 hours

Benchmark’s favourite. In 2011, a 13-year-old boy captured a 47-second video of a man wildly chasing after his dog, which had run after some deer in Richmond Park, south west London. The original video has now more than 12.8 million views and counting. Ali Goodyear, 37, whose son shot the clip on a mobile phone, reportedly earned £500 ($775) in just one day after agreeing a revenue-sharing deal with YouTube.