To date, Felix Kjellberg — the prankster and videogame vlogger better known to fans as PewDiePie — has amassed more than 104 million subscribers and generated over 25 billion views to date, by far the most of any individually operated channel on YouTube.
“YouTube has been my home for over a decade now and live streaming on the platform feels like a natural fit as I continue to look for new ways to create content and interact with fans worldwide,” Kjellberg said in a statement. “Live-streaming is something I’m focusing a lot on in 2020 and beyond, so to be able to partner with YouTube and be at the forefront of new product features is special and exciting for the future.”
The deal comes three years after YouTube had ended its business deals with PewDiePie over anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi imagery that Kjellberg included in some videos. (Kjellberg apologized for the videos and said the “joke went too far.”)
PewDiePie has remained a controversial figure. He issued an apology in 2017 after uttering the n-word during a video game live-stream, and in late 2018 he gave a shoutout one of his videos to a YouTube channel trading in white-supremacist rhetoric (which Kjellberg later edited out, claiming he didn’t realize the channel included pro-Nazi references). In September 2019, in unveiling his YouTube Red Diamond Creator Award — bestowed after he became the first creator to reach 100 million subscribers — he announced a $50,000 donation to the Anti-Defamation League as a way to dispel “alt-right claims that [have] been thrown against me.” But he backtracked a day later, calling the decision a “mistake” and said the contribution to the anti-hate group didn’t “feel genuine.” Earlier this year, he took a month-long hiatus from YouTube earlier this year, saying he was “tired” and complaining about YouTube failing to enforce policies.
PewDiePie has continued to grow his fanbase despite (or perhaps because of) the controversies. In 2019, he was the most-viewed YouTube creator with over 4 billion video views.
YouTube’s live-streaming deal with PewDiePie comes after Kjellberg last year had inked an exclusive live-streaming deal with DLive, a service that had been promising better economic terms for creators than other major platforms.
For YouTube, bringing PewDiePie into the live-streaming roster steps up its rivalry with Amazon’s Twitch live-streaming platform. In recent months, YouTube has inked similar exclusive pacts with game creators including CouRage, Lachlan, LazarBeam, Muselk, Typical Gamer and Valkyrae.
The 30-year-old Kjellberg launched his YouTube channel in 2010 and began uploading videos of “Minecraft” and “Amnesia” through his popular “let’s play” series. Over the years, his channel has evolved to include a range of comedy and reaction videos as well as popular videos about memes. His live streams often draw thousands of viewers where fans engage and support Kjellberg through products like YouTube’s memberships and Super Chat features. In August 2013, PewDiePie’s channel became the most-subscribed YouTube channel in the world.