Building a real-life Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory and getting hunted by the military helped YouTuber MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson) earn $82 million last year and balloon his fanbase to nearly the size of the U.S. population, securing the number one spot on Forbes' Top Creators list for a second year running.
"Every video he puts out on YouTube is over 100 million viewers. He's a Super Bowl commercial by himself," says Ryan Detert, the CEO and co-founder of the creator marketing firm, Influential.
The firm teamed up with Forbes to analyze thousands of influencers across TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Twitch and other social media platforms, narrowing down the list down to the top 50 most influential online stars who boast a combined 2.6 billion followers, roughly one-third of the world's population.
Their estimated combined earnings haul: $700 million, up a whopping 23% from last year's list.
"That's one of the big misnomers around the idea that influences are a single entity or person. It really is a small business," Detert told Scripps News, adding that the listed influencers are essentially their own production studios, raking in wealth from brand deals, residuals, and entrepreneurship.
"I think a lot of that is based off of the newer platforms ... where brands want to spend their dollars is where these creators are really owning the eyeballs," said Detert.
Forbes used Influential's data to measure and rank top creators by their earnings, follower counts, audience engagement and business ventures.
Rounding out the top five are YouTuber Olajide Olatunji (known online as KSI), who took the 2nd slot on the list after earning $24 million in 2022, amassing 112 million followers with an average engagement rate of 6.5%.
In third was Vine-star-turned-boxer, Jake Paul, who boasted 66 million followers, a 1.6% engagement rate, and earned $34 million last year.
YouTube comedians Rhett and Link earned $35 million through their comedy sketches that reached 32 million followers, and 18-year-old viral TikTok sensation Charli D'Amelio nabbed the fifth spot on the list capitalizing on her 213 million followers to earn $23 million last year.
Also making the top 50: The 11-year-old so-called "toy titan" Ryan Kaji, who made $35 million in 2022, and LGBTQ+ activist Dylan Mulvaney who battled controversy after Bud Light featured her on a personalized can of beer.
Detert expects brands to spend $21 billion on influencer marketing this year, up from just $1.6 billion in 2016.
He says this list is not only a celebration of influencers who have been able to create massive businesses out of their content, but an indicator of the future of media consumption.
"The next generation may not think I'm only going to spend my time watching linear TV," he said. "It's now being willing to go to wherever my favorite creator lives."
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