On Wu’s videos, ads for Mazda and Toyota pop up. Michelle Phan, a Vietnamese American beauty guru, who ranks 20th among YouTube’s most popular channels, has become a spokeswoman for Lancome. YouTube declined to reveal how much such producers earn, but it says hundreds of them make at least six figures annually.
“A lot of U.S. marketers are leaving minority audiences on the table,” said Seneca Mudd, the director of industry initiatives at the Interactive Advertising Bureau. “Advertisers would ignore that trend at their own peril.”
Among the 20 most-subscribed-to channels on YouTube, eight feature minorities. Most are Asian American. Many more black and Latino shows populate the top 50. These producers are also finding an audience that has been largely neglected by Hollywood. Nearly 80 percent of minorities regularly watch online videos, compared with less than 70 percent of whites, the Pew Internet & American Life Project says.
Wu, who ranks 11th among YouTube channels, said he does not intentionally target Asian American issues. But those viewers more easily understand his jokes on dating, stereotypes and the generational clash between parents and kids, he said. “I just tell my stories honestly, and usually Asian Americans will relate to me because they say, ‘That’s how I am and with my parents,’ ” he said.
Added Phan: “If you look at mainstream media, there aren’t many Asian Americans. But it’s also shown non-Asians that they’re not that different from a girl with a different skin tone and a different background.”
Analysts say the trend of minority content on YouTube makes sense. Networks feel pressure to appeal to a broader audience, but Internet video can thrive by just targeting niches because the cost of producing a show is so low, said David Bushman, television curator for the Paley Center for Media.
But the audience for shows like those of Wu and Phan extends beyond their niche. The viewership numbers are eye-popping. Ryan Higa, a Japanese American comedian, has 5.2 million subscribers, second among all YouTube channels, according to the company. In total, his videos have been viewed 1.1 billion times.
Wu has 2.3 million subscribers, but often many more than that watch individual shows. While precise numbers are not available, a large majority of his users live in the United States, YouTube says. The same is true of other minority content producers.