YouTube’s top star in contract dispute

Ray William Johnson says he'll exit Maker Studios

YouTube’s biggest star is embroiled in a public dispute with the company where he is under contract.

Ray William Johnson, star of the top-ranked YouTube channel, is vowing to exit Maker Studios, the studio/network that has been his online home for the past two years. He produced the most recent episode of his series “=3” in his own home instead of at Maker’s facilities in Culver City.

A spokeswoman for Maker declined comment beyond a statement from the company regarding the conflict that noted Johnson is still under contract. “Ray is still a part of the Maker Network. With the recent decline in viewership on ‘=3’ it made sense for him to go back to producing the show himself.”

Johnson’s management shingle 3 Arts Entertainment did not respond to inquiries for comment. Johnson is also repped by WME, which referred the inquiries to 3 Arts.

A source familiar with the dispute between Johnson and Maker characterized his exit as a negotiation tactic.

The rift exposes the delicate balance of power between talent that have become bona fide stars on the Internet’s biggest platform, and the growing number of companies that lure them in by providing a host of production services and financial backing.

The bone of contention between the two sides is unclear, but these disputes frequently center on the levels of participation a studio has in talent’s various revenue streams, and what they can do outside of their online activities.

The timing of the dispute comes as Maker is prepared to announce record traffic numbers Friday, pushing past rival studio Machinima for the first time to finish third among all YouTube partners, with 23.4 million unique visitors for the month of September according to Comscore. Only Vevo and Warner Music have more traffic.

With a show that features him mocking funny viral videos, Johnson has generated over 2 billion views and nearly 6 million subscribers on YouTube, according to video measurement service VidStatsX.

But a source suggested that Johnson represented a dwindling portion of Maker’s traffic, currently totaling no more than 2%. Maker has been diversifying its talent base in recent months, signing Snoop Dogg to produce a channel in June.

While Maker’s statement alluded to a decline in Johnson’s traffic, the “=3” star denied that in a series of tweets Thursday. He also alleged that Maker attempted to take an ownership stake in “=3” and stopped production on an album featuring Johnson.