YouTube megastar PewDiePie, the most popular creator on the platform, has reached 50 million followers — and the gaming vlogger and comic says he will carry through on his threat to delete the channel on Friday over a dispute with the Google-owned platform about declining page views.
PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, tweeted Thursday that he will “delete tomorrow 5pm gmt,” which would be noon Eastern in the U.S. The YouTuber notched his 50 millionth subscriber worldwide around 5 p.m. ET Thursday.
However, it’s still unclear how serious Kjellberg is about his vow to delete the channel.
[UPDATE, Dec. 9, 12:15 p.m. ET: PewDiePie admitted that his threats were all just an attention-seeking stunt. He didn’t delete his primary channel — but did disable a joke account he’d recently set up to tweak another YouTube gamer. Read the full story: YouTube’s PewDiePie Punks Fans, Admits Threat to Delete Channel Was a Joke]
The Swedish-born YouTuber, now based in the U.K., has a penchant for pranks and showmanship. PewDiePie (whose current profile pic on the site is of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg) has delighted in tweeting fake news about himself, and his Twitter account was briefly suspended in August after joking that he had joined the Islamic terrorist group ISIS.
PewDiePie’s declaration to reboot his YouTube channel at 50 million subs seems aimed at grabbing the attention of YouTube higher-ups, as well as goosing video views with his theatrics.
In a Dec. 2 video, PewDiePie declared that he would delete his channel once it hit 50 million subscribers, expressing frustration with changes YouTube apparently made to its recommended-videos section that he claimed resulted in a loss of views.
“It seems that YouTube wants to promote random-ass f—ing videos that you don’t give a s— about,” groused PewDiePie. “It feels like a kick in the face when they make changes and don’t tell anyone about it.” He also complained that subscribers were not being notified about new videos in their feeds, and that some were being unsubscribed from channels.
Last week he tweeted, “Some progress being made. Holding pitch forks and tourches (sic) off for now” but later posted on Twitter: “if im pulling 2mil views per video with 50mil subs id rather restart and get rid of inactive accounts and piss people off in the process thx.” Then on Dec. 5 he tweeted that “YouTube has responded and are digging into the issues.”
In a follow-up video, Kjellberg claimed that most YouTubers generate about half their views from recommended and suggested videos. According to Kjellberg, prior to November 2016 he had been getting about 30% of his views from YouTube’s suggested videos section — but that plunged to less than 1% for videos he uploaded last month. Kjellberg said YouTube recommendations now seem to be emphasizing viral videos and older content with high click-through rates, adding that porn has shown up in his suggested-videos feed.
Asked for comment, a YouTube rep said, “We are in touch with YouTube creators to address their concerns.”
Regarding claims of drops in subscriber numbers, YouTube said it has conducted “an extensive review and found there have been no decreases in creators subscriber numbers beyond what normally happens when viewers either unsubscribe from a creator’s channel or when YouTube removes spammed subscribers.”
But YouTube hasn’t provided any explanation about why viewership numbers are dropping for PewDiePie as well as other YouTubers. According to Kjellberg, YouTube told him that it had not made any changes to its content-recommendation algorithm.
Burnie Burns, co-founder and creative director of digital studio Rooster Teeth, said it does appear that YouTube has made some changes to make user engagement a priority. In his view, however, the internet-video giant is justified in its efforts to continuously improve the way the site functions as a whole.
“YouTube doesn’t owe us anything but a healthy platform,” Burns said. “If they decide changes are necessary for the good of all the creators, that’s what they should do.” Rooster Teeth offers original shows like “Red vs. Blue” and “RWBY” on its own subscription service before uploading them for free to YouTube. The company is a division of Fullscreen Media, which is owned by Otter Media (a joint venture of AT&T and Chernin Group).
Meanwhile, Kjellberg said his concern about the recent YouTube changes has to do with making it the best possible place for creators and their fans, and that he doesn’t care about racking up huge views. “Believe it or not, this is not about money for me,” he said in a Dec. 4 video. “I think if this continues it’s going to kill a lot of channels.”
The 27-year-old generated gross income of $15 million for the 12 months ended in June, according to Forbes. The mag attributed Kjellberg’s 20% year-over-year gain largely to his YouTube Red series, “Scare PewDiePie,” and sales of his first book, “This Book Loves You.”