PewDiePie, Jenna Marbles, CaptainSparklez: The Web's Biggest Stars

Meet the Johnny Carsons of the Internet


Johnny Carson

Back in his day, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson bestrode the small screen like a late-night colossus, pulling in audiences that were massive and persistent for 30-plus years at NBC.

But the future (or even the present) belongs not to broadcast networks or even cable—it belongs to the Internet and a host of personalities and creators that you've probably never heard of unless you have teenagers or gamers in the house.

Founded in 2005, YouTube reaches a billion unique visitors a month all over the planet. "100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute," claims the service's stats page, and "over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—that's almost an hour for every person on Earth."

YouTube isn't alone in hosting video, the vast majority of which is made by individuals, not professional entertainers or traditional media corporations. Other services such as Vine, which allows users to post and share six-second videos, provide radically different forms of expression. After going live in January 2013, Vine reached more than 40 million users in less than eight months.

The rapid growth and ubiquity of online video is both a challenge and a lifeline to traditional television. Online video not only eviscerates barriers to entry for virtually anybody, it gives all of us bored even with the 500-plus channels of cable a nearly infinite number of options that have nothing to do with ABC, CBS, or Fox. At the same time, online video—whether in the form of network-authorized outlets such as Hulu and Netflix or wider-ranging places such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Vine—provides an increasingly important venue by which traditional TV fare reaches an audience. CNN and NBC, along with other media companies, are all over the Web. Late-night hosts in the tradition of Carson—think Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon, and Jimmy Kimmel—can pull millions of views for bits of their shows on YouTube, giving them to exposure to audiences who would otherwise never watch.

In 1981, the music-video network MTV famously launched by airing a short video for the two-year-old Buggles song "Video Killed the Radio Star." These days, online video is slowly killing old-style TV stars and replacing them with people who gained their fame in the new medium of online video. Here are some of the biggest and most interesting phenoms of that burgeoning world.

1. PewDiePie. The acknowledged king of YouTube, PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) is a 24-year-old Swede living in London who creates "let's play" videos about computer games and comic commentary that often involve his girlfriend and partner Marzia Bisognin. He boasts nearly 31 million YouTube subscribers and his videos have been watched over 6 billion (with a B) times. Here's a sample:

2. Jenna Marbles. With 14 million subscribers, Jenna Marbles (a.k.a. Jenna N. Mourey) is considered the most-subscribed-to female personality on YouTube. If male personalities trade mostly in bits involving video games and music videos, Jenna Marbles revels in comedy aimed at the Battle of the Sexes.

3. CaptainSparklez. Like many of the biggest names in online video, Jordan Maron, a 22-year-old American from Los Angeles, specializes in the "let's play genre" and music-video mashups. Boasting 8 million subscribers, his channel is a mix of technical mastery of popular games and acid commentary. Here's "Revenge"—A Minecraft Parody of Usher's DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love—Crafted Using Noteblocks," a video that has pulled an astonishing 143 million views at YouTube.

4. Brittany Furlan. One of the queens of Vine, Furlan's short loops have been played over 1.2 billion times. Many of her most popular bits show her out and about in Los Angeles, taking in the weirdness or at home with non-compliant pets. But the intensely short length of Vine's six seconds give rise to surrealistic bits such as this one (turn sound on by clicking in lower right-hand corner).

5. King Bach. Canadian-born Andrew Bachelor has shown up in TV shows such as House of Lies and Black Jesus and he's a minor YouTube phenom too, but it's his massive presence on Vine (more than 8 million subscribers) for which he's best known. His short clips often satirize racial and ethnic sterotypes, as seen below.

Who'd we miss and what new platforms do you find most interesting and entertaining? Add your voice to the comments below.

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  1. Just another hero carpet and I realise that is redundant saving a life

    Prior to the body Camera Era we so rarely would hear of these stories although those of us working the streets see it happen often

    Booyah body cameras because now with the video, departments will be more likely to issue press releases and the press will be more likely to report them

    And hey with the Internet we no longer need the press we can report Stephane around the this stuff in our own sites, with video, something that some forward thinking agencies are now doing…

      1. Does the hero carpet match the hero drapes?

    1. Which just goes to show you: it’s news when a cop does something good.

  2. When my son was into Minecraft a couple of years ago, all he could ever talk about was Captain Sparklez, and he was constantly watching the videos where Sparklez would navigate through various adventures on the Minecraft platform.

    He would always tell me of the millions of page views Sparklez gets, and I thought he was exaggerating. Then he showed me a video tour of the fabulous condo the 22-year-old Sparklez bought with his YouTube money, and I was convinced.

    1. It’s all about diamond minecart in my house. Diamond minecart and disney infinity. and frozen. I’ve got 3 of them and they all obsess.

      For me there’s astros baseball, cowboys football, Hit and Run and 9gag.

      1. For me there’s astros baseball, cowboys football

        This is disgusting.

        1. It’s pretty much worse than ebola.

        2. Some people whip themselves for their sins. I punish myself beer and poorly played sports.

          1. You misunderstand the depths of your depravity. The sin here is mixing Houston and Dallas.

            1. formative years in houston- adult years in DFW. Didn’t like left houston after the oilers- before texans. Started watching cowboys the year before parcels came in.

              I also like the mavs…

        3. Apatheist ?_??|10.14.14 @ 10:13AM|#

          For me there’s astros baseball, cowboys football
          This is disgusting.”

          Spoken like a true Seahawks fan.

          How ’bout THESE Cowboys ?

    2. The ones that astounded me were Kinder Egg videos.

      57M+ views of nothing but toys in candy eggs.

      Makes me think the internet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    3. Captain Sparklez can’t hold a candle to PSJr

  3. So we are doomed. We are going from the Idiot Box to the Idiot Internet.

  4. What happened to the Fat Star Wars Kid?

    1. He joined Obi-wan.

  5. For some strange reason last I was actually on Jenna Marbles’s twitter page last night. Then I got linked to another young girl’s twitter page, then a third, then a fourth.

    What struck me was not anything they said on their page, I was pretty instantly bored with all of it. What struck me is how 100% of these girls (I estimate age to be between 19 and 22) all had the EXACT SAME SELFIE on their twitter page. Is there a class one can attend to achieve that selfie composition? 45% camera angle, head slightly cropped in corner by anywhere between 10% and 30%.

    1. There’s a youtube to explain how to do that.

      1. Huh, she says “don’t overdo the duckface, do kissyface instead.”

        *sits silently, staring with deadpan look*

  6. Who’d we miss

    You forgot to mention Firefly!

    Oops, wrong discussion. Anyway, PewDiePie is the only one of those five I’ve heard of, but I don’t watch his stuff.

    I like RedLetterMedia for movie discussion and Hannah Minx (though she seems to have stopped uploading) for eye candy.

    Oh yeah, and those people who make “Honest Trailers” can be pretty funny.

    1. mmm…Honest Trailers, so delicious.

      In that vein, “How it Should Have Ended” is a good channel as well.

  7. Best video game series on the Internet is without a doubt Zero Punctuation. hiss reviews are as profane as they are hilarious.

    1. I actually think that Tobuscus is one of the best. I mean, actually funny. There are a lot of people that appeal to the tween set (he’s one) and almost all of them just… aren’t funny. He’s one of the few who seems genuinely funny and amazingly he remains clean.

      The other that I like on the more profane end is the Angry Joe reviews.

  8. You’ll never see the mature incisive bipartisan political insight of a top notch network show like Morning Joke on youtube.

  9. “Captain Sparklez” sounds gay.


  10. I don’t see why any of those things couldn’t be on TV and wouldn’t be just as popular or more so if they were. People still watch a few TV shows. Last I looked Mad Men, and Boardwalk Empire and Breaking Bad and Downton Abbey and a few others were still really big deals. People also still watch a lot of sports on TV.

    It very well may be true that people’s tastes are changing such that traditional types of TV shows like the sitcom or the hour crime drama are dying. This has happened before. In the 1950s the prime time variety comedy show was king. By the early mid 70s The Carol Burnett show was the last one left and when it ended it 1977, there never was another one. Maybe the same thing is happening to sitcoms and dramas now. Even if it is, that doesn’t mean television is going to die. It just means it has to adapt and provide different content.

    The biggest problem with TV and movies in general is that they have been taken over by Progressives who have enforced the worst sort of PC dogma. Nothing kills art faster than telling artists that large ares of content and diverging views are off limits. You couldn’t make most of the great movies and TV shows of the past today because the scripts would never be acceptable by PC standards today.

    In contrast artistic mediums like Youtube and video games are subject to no such restrictions. It is no surprise people are finding them more interesting.

    1. People also still watch a lot of sports on TV.

      Probably the only reason cable still exists is for live sports. Start streaming that and cable will die.

      1. Most sports are already streamed – and the experience sucks ass. Much like the experience of watching YouTube videos.

        1. The stream is purposely inferior to make it a last resort option only. Those billion dollar network deals are too lucrative to harm.

    2. I don’t see why any of those things couldn’t be on TV and wouldn’t be just as popular or more so if they were.

      Sometimes out of curiosity I’ll take note of how my kids interact with Youtube. It literally offers an unprecedented level of flexibility TV has no ability to match. Even the most modern cable console can’t match the flick of a mouse and a screen full of unending trails of linked and generated content.

      1. Smart TVs are pretty close. And of course some of that is the fact that they are kids and just have shorter attention spans. As they get older and can watch and appreciate longer shows, TV’s lack of interaction becomes less of an issue.

  11. Cable is over-priced crap I still provide just to get the kids off of Youtube occasionally and during breakfast (because they are not allowed to get syrup on their damn laptops).

  12. One that should be added: Thomas “TomSka” Ridgewell, British comedian, creator of the “asdfmovie” series (think Cyanide & Happiness animated rapid-fire skits).

  13. Bo and John should do sociopolitical commentary videos on youtube.

    And pillow fights.

    1. I would watch that but only if they find a way to include their adorable typos.

  14. I think another example of how PC is killing TV is the rise of the reality show. Yes, reality shows are cheaper to make and thus tempting to networks. But no matter how cheap they are, they wouldn’t get made if people didn’t want to watch them. Why do people want to watch them? Mostly I think they want to watch them because reality TV (and most of it is staged just as much as any sticom) is the one place you can shows that are not made to conform to various PC cliches.

    Take Deadliest Catch for example. The subject of guys going out on crab boats and risking their lives to make a living is pretty interesting and would have made a great backdrop for a prime time TV drama 20 or 30 years ago. The problem is that the networks would have fucked it up by putting in the various necessary narrative plots and characters. The fictional crews would have had to have had a few black guys who were always cool and overcoming racism. There would need to be one plot line about a character coming out as gay. There would need to be at least one or two can do tougher than the other guys women characters and so forth. In contrast, the reality show can dispense with all of that and just worry about whatever drama that happens on a crab boat PC or not.

    1. What are the biggest shows these days and have been for the last 10 years? Reality shows and period dramas like Mad Men and Downton Abbey. Period dramas escape the PC yoke by going to a different time. Fictional shows set today are likely to be awful since there are so few topics they can address and are so restricted in the ways they can address them.

      1. House of Cards?

  15. I am the mom of a 23y.o woman and I think leaving Rooster Teeth/Achievement Hunters off the the list makes it incomplete. As a company they are huge, but they have individual members that are stars in their own right. My daughter doesn’t have cable but she gets most of her entertainment online and RT is where she enjoys looking around first.

    1. “Micoo!”

      “Dammit Gavin!”

      “LLllllllleeeeeeettttt’ssssss Plllaaaayyyy!!!”

      “I’m gonna build a house…”

      “I’m still in the air!”

  16. Jenna Marbles has a high annoying to entertaining ratio.

    1. Britney Furlan is very cute though.

  17. Here’s a link to my own site, from last year, when “Becca,” the ravin’ former Gamma Delta Queen Bee, made herself infamous by blasting her sisters for not being cool. Her email became You-Tube fodder for a number of wits. The first video is no longer online, but the rest are, and they’re funny.…..t-critique

  18. Here’s the thing:

    Nick seems to miss the point here by highlighting a half-dozen kids with mega-bazillions of ‘views’ and touting these as what ‘makes Youtube/INtertoobs’ so different and specials and wunderbra.

    Even a ‘top 100’ list would still be disproportionately weighted with “Man hit in nuts by Football” and “Lady Gaga Lights Farts on Fire” type stuff. View counts are almost a negative indicator of merit – Over a few million and its probably a ‘Fart Remix’ of some already-horrible song.

    The real deep value on Youtube is in the enormous ‘long tail’ of smaller channels, where people tend to serve a loyal audience of maybe 10s of thousands. Subscribers, not views, identify the real Youtube winners.

    Something Ive found interesting in my own viewing is that I am often more entertained by the personality than the actual subject matter. One dude I find endlessly amusing is ‘Razorfist‘ -whose interests are limited entirely to Pro Wrestling, Heavy Metal, Video Games, and bad 1980s Movies. He’s just a witty guy and I can listen to him bitch about anything. And there are hundreds of other people like him that are far more representative of why YouTube is such a great medium well than some 20-something purveyor of viral Vines videos. Youtube themselves seem to be figuring this out on an ongoing basis, and have constantly adjusted the way they remunerate creators to reflect that.

    1. Even a ‘top 100’ list would still be disproportionately weighted with “Man hit in nuts by Football” and “Lady Gaga Lights Farts on Fire” type stuff. View counts are almost a negative indicator of merit –

      to a point, you’re correct.

      I think you can pretty well track a metric for what I’d call, oh, I dunno, an ephemeral audience… a single video of “ow my ballz” getting a gajillion hits vs youtube personality who has a channel that consistently gets a quarter gajillion hits, and has a gajillion subscribers.

      The former can be posted by a person who has no long-term draw, and just hits the ‘jackpot’ with a viral video, never to be duplicated by the person doing the posting. The latter has staying power (as much staying power as anything can have in the Twitter era).

      One dude I find endlessly amusing is ‘Razorfist’ -whose interests are limited entirely to Pro Wrestling, Heavy Metal, Video Games, and bad 1980s Movies

      That’s exactly it. A good Youtube personality can get huge numbers of hits off the most bizarre subject matter.

    2. Yes. People used to all watch the same sorts of shows or listen to the same kinds of music because that was all anyone had access to. No one would have ever seen the wrestling guy you mention before Youtube. Now the few thousand people he appeals to can watch him and won’t be watching whatever is on ABC that night. The future of entertainment is that sort of niche stuff. Just like there are not any new real rock stars anymore, in future there might not be any real movie or TV stars because no one person, no matter how talented, can command a big enough audience to properly be called a star.

    3. Agreed, I should have mentioned Razorfist the Rage-a-holic along with RLM and Minxy on my list of faves.

  19. I have never heard of any of these people.

    And that’s because YouTube is swarming with idiots.

      1. Well played, Paul..

    1. Jsut so! I don’t get any of this. I hate most pop-culture and I especially hate “bits”. Once in a while something brilliant and topical will come along – I’m thinking of “Dead Giveaway!” – but who, over college age, has time for any of this?


    2. And that’s because YouTube is swarming with idiots.

      Sure, but it also swarms with highly creative individuals (some of whom are becoming quite wealthy) creating visual entertainment media for niche demographics.

  20. Where’s StampyCat (aka Stampylongnose, aka Joseph Garrett?)

    1. Who knew that all of this time all people really wanted was porn and kitties?

      1. Its really all you need.

  21. The Vlog Brothers (Hank and John Green) put out some pretty interesting stuff – particularly on the “SciShow” and “Crash Course” channels.

  22. I make up to USD90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around USD40h to USD86h? Someone was good to me by sharing this link with me, so now i am hoping i could help someone else out there by sharing this link?

    Try it, you won’t regret it!?…. http://www.Work4Hour.Com

  23. my friend’s sister makes $83 an hour on the laptop . She has been fired for ten months but last month her payment was $12435 just working on the laptop for a few hours
    Find Out More. ????????????

  24. Never heard of the last two. And I’m appalled that Tobuscus (Toby Turner) wasn’t mentioned. The hell?

    1. They already had two men, and in order to get the SJW Seal of Diversity, they had to include an equal number of ladies.

  25. I’ve never seen any of these people. I’ve heard of Jenna Marbles, but never watched her.

    The stuff I watch varies a lot depending on my mood. Lately, I’ve mostly been watching French music videos from the 1960s.

  26. I could think of a couple more big names. Seananners & GassyMexican for video games, DoseOfBuckley for general comedy/commentary, Lindsey Stirling, Pentatonix, Watsky, and Klayplex for musical artists using youtube to get their name out. CorriderDigital for CGI/animations

  27. ooh yeah, Tobuscus too

  28. Everyone should heed my warning. YouTube is a destructive plague over the world.

    Case in point, if there were no YouTube, there would be no Justin Bieber.

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