10 richest people on YouTube

YouTube sensation Michelle Phan.

YouTube sensation Michelle Phan.

Say what you want about the YouTube generation, but these video bloggers seem to be on to something.

YouTube stars make money mainly by getting paid to interact with products on their channels and sharing ad revenue with YouTube. Some also star in movies, write books, go on tour, sell music or cut endorsement deals. They're a hit with younger audiences and brands trying to reach the next generation of consumers.

Forbes is best known for its list of billionaires. This is its first stab at ranking YouTube stars.

It says it measured earnings before management fees and taxes and came up with the figures based on data from online sources such as Nielsen, IMDb and interviews with managers, lawyers, industry insiders and the stars themselves.

Here are the world's top-earning YouTube stars, according to Forbes magazine.

1. PewDiePie: US$12m (NZ$17.5m)

Sweden's Felix Kjellberg, better known by his handle "PewDiePie", tops the list of people who have spun short online videos into huge piles of cash.

The 25-year-old gamer and comedian has made his fortune providing expletive-ridden video game commentary to an online fan base, known as the "Bro Army".

With almost 40 million subscribers and over 10 billion video views, PewDiePie holds the title for the most popular channel on YouTube.

But despite his horde of online followers, Kjellberg is notoriously private and rarely does interviews. He has also said that "money is not important" to him and that he just wants to make "entertaining videos". Still, a cool $16 million in the bank can't hurt, can it?

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2. Smosh: $US8.5 million ($A11.7m)

Who knew the antics of two childhood friends could be turned into such a lucrative business? Californian duo Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla have garnered a huge online following with their live-action comedy skits, which cover just about every topic that could conceivably cross the mind of a 12-year-old boy.

To give you an idea, over the past month Smosh have covered 'how to walk like a girl', 'failed boy bands' and 'shower party with Tom Cruise', among dozens of other completely random topics.

The pair, both aged in their late 20s, joined YouTube in 2005 and are regarded as the site's first comedy channel. They shot to stardom after releasing a Pokemon lip-sync video, which went on to become most viewed clip on YouTube at that time.

Fast-forward to 2015 and Smosh has over 21 million subscribers, five YouTube channels, four actors on the payroll and a full-length movie.

3. Fine Brothers: US$8.5m (NZ$12.4m)

Tied in second place are another YouTube comedy duo, Benny and Rafi Fine, who have earned over 13 million subscribers, 3.3 billion views - as well as a Daytime Emmy - with their 'React' videos.

As the name implies, the React series involves filming people reacting to over-the-top videos. It started with 'Kids React to Viral Videos' in 2010, and has now expanded to include teens, adults, elders and YouTubers.

Their online fame has also taken the Brooklyn-born brothers to the small screen. Their show React to That premiered on Nickelodeon in 2014.

4. Lindsey Stirling: NZ$6m (NZ$8.8m)

Fourth on the list of big earners is dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling who dances ... and plays the violin ... at the same time. It's more impressive than it sounds.

Stirling took to YouTube in 2007 after being rejected by a major record label. The online community quickly became enchanted and the record labels were left grovelling.

She was a quarter-finalist on America's Got Talent in 2010 and climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard charts with her album Shatter Me in 2014. Add to that 7 million YouTube followers, and it makes sense why Stirling is one of YouTube's top-earners.

She is the only musical act to appear on the Forbes list.

5. Rhett and Link: US$4.5 million (NZ$6.6m)

Rhett McLaughlin and Charles Lincoln Neal III are ' intertainers ' who have attracted more than 8 million subscribers with their Good Mythical Morning series, which parodies breakfast news programmes.

The comedy duo, who both have engineering degrees and have been friends since childhood, have made nearly half their fortune through sponsored content deals, which includes shooting ridiculous and humorous commercials for businesses. 

They have shot sponsored ads for Gillette, Wendy's and Toyota, as well as several smaller businesses. Considering Rhett and Link have a YouTube subscriber base of over 11 million people (8 million on their Good Mythical Morning channel and 3 million on their Rhett & Link channel), this is an advertising ploy that would likely have both the businesses and the YouTube duo laughing all the way to the bank.

5. KSI: US$4.5 million (NZ$6.6m)

Tied in fifth place is Olajide 'JJ' Olatunji, who follows in the footsteps of PewDiePie as a video game commentator / comedian. His YouTube channel KSIOlajidebt has over 10.8 million followers.

Best known for his FIFA gaming skills, the 22-year-old records up to 40 videos a month, with each video usually amassing around 2 million views. His family members often feature in the videos.

Olatunji has also used his YouTube channel to launch his rap career. Earlier this year, he released the single Lamborghini, which reached No. 30 on the UK charts.

7. Michelle Phan: US$3 million (NZ$4.4m)

What started as a hobby turned into a lucrative business for self-taught makeup artist Michelle Phan. The YouTube beauty vlogger shows fans how to apply make up to look like different celebrities or characters, including Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga and Game of Thrones' Daenerys Targaryen.

Phan's videos began to go viral online after BuzzFeed posted two of her make-up tutorials in 2009 and 2010. Since then she has accumulated more than 8 million subscribers and 1.1 billion video views.

In addition to her hugely successful YouTube channel, Phan has had a make-up line with L'Oreal, a book published by Random House, and is also the founder of online beauty community Ipsy.

At just 28 years of age, it looks like this YouTube beauty queen is sitting pretty.

8. Superwoman: US$2.5 million (NZ$3.7m)

Lilly Singh, better known by her YouTube name Superwoman, found fame with her humorous take on everyday life. Her clips take on a range of topics from "battle of the sexes" to "parent lols".

A first generation immigrant from India, Singh's comedy is often influenced by her ethnic background and experiences growing up with Indian parents. 

She has travelled the world over the past year with her stand-up comedy show A Trip to Unicorn Island. Her videos have over 880 million views and her YouTube channel has over 6.8 million subscribers

9. Roman Atwood: US$2.5 million (NZ$3.7m)

Prankster Roman Atwood has found fame as the digital-era version of Ashton Kutcher. In clips reminiscent of Punk'd, Atwood pranks family and friends, to the delight of his 4 million YouTube subscribers.

He recently stirred controversy after tricking his girlfriend into thinking their three-year-old son was killed in an explosion. His poor girlfriend may have been left traumatised but Atwood was rewarded with 12 million views on YouTube.

The Washington Post dubbed him "YouTube's most appalling prankster" after the stunt. That's saying something.

Nissan got in on the joke with Atwood earlier this year, enlisting his talents as part of their Super Bowl advertising campaign. 

10.  Rosanna Pansino: US$2.5 million ($A3.7m)

Also tied in eight place is baking queen Rosanna Pansino, best known for her YouTube cooking show Nerdy Nummies. She also has a cookbook by the same name.

Pansino's culinary creations have earned her a follower-base of 4.7 million subscribers on YouTube and is credited with taking the cooking show format to the internet. 

The self-taught chef is also an actress, appearing on Glee before finding YouTube fame.

 - SMH

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