Guinness this week handed down an official world record for the most popular YouTube user on the Internet. It is not Lady Gaga. It is not Justin Bieber. It is, in fact, someone you have probably never heard of: a Swedish video-game vlogger who goes by the handle PewDiePie. (A warning for the delicate: PewDiePie’s language is decidedly R-rated.)
PewDiePie is, for the record, actually 24-year-old Felix Kjellberg, and he has more than 25 million YouTube followers — more than YouTube’s own Spotlight channel. Kjellberg dropped out of college in 2011 and moved to the U.K., with its faster broadband speeds, to pursue YouTube full-time. Per The Atlantic, which parsed the inexplicably lucrative cottage industry of video-game vlogging earlier this month, that was probably a good choice: Kjellberg makes an estimated $140,000 to $1.4 million off the channel. Per month.
And yet despite his extraordinary popularity, it’s hard to explain Kjellberg’s appeal. He narrates long, plotless and only semi-instructional videos of himself playing “The Walking Dead” or “The Wolf Among Us.” He squeaks and squawks at his fans, whom he calls “bros.” He occasionally pulls his equally squeaky girlfriend in for guest appearances, in which they sketch their YouTube followers or challenge each other to … thumb wars.
He sounds like “a young Bobcat Goldthwait between hits of nitrous oxide,” Variety’s Andrew Wallenstein wrote in a withering column last September, which also accused Kjellberg — in no particular order! — of “psycho babble,” “aggressive stupidity” and “blabbering like a blithering idiot.” You might say he’s an acquired taste.
And industry contenders are trying to acquire what he’s got — quite literally, in this case. On Monday, Disney bought Maker Studios, the YouTube network that PewDiePie belongs to, for a whopping $500 million. It’s unclear exactly what Disney will do with the network now that it owns it, but Re/code’s Peter Kafka says he can envision a world where Maker starts distributing Disney content through its channels, or where the company uses YouTube as a sort of “farm team” for its more established channels.
“Disney can’t scour the earth looking for the next PewDiePie,” Kafka reasons, “but when he or she does pop up, it would be happy to offer a deal.”
Regardless of what Disney plans to do with PewDiePie and its other quirky, home-spun acquisitions, the Guinness Record has to look pretty good. Twenty-five million followers is nothing to sneeze at — after all, Disney’s official YouTube channel has only half that many.