Several months ago I began to wonder if there is a “shelf life” on being a YouTube creator. How old is too old — and is there an expiration date to being a star on the internet? If so, what is that age?
Ever since then, I have revisited the question several times, bringing it up with creators I’ve interviewed. The answer is always an approximation of the same thing: “Yes, but I’m not sure what it is.” Nobody wants to guess, possibly for fear that they have just punched the start button on their own doomsday clock.
YouTube seems like a young man’s game — the medium itself is only 8 years old — but surely there have got to be some old codgers bringing in the subscribers? Old people like watching other old people, right? For the basis of this study, we are going to be using above age 40 as “old” (I know, I know). I decided to get all “Freakonomics” and break down the numbers, just to be certain. And what I found, I think you’ll agree, paints a very interesting picture of the YouTube landscape.
So there aren’t any old people in the roughly top 100 YouTube performers (I edited out top subscribed pages of corporations like VEVO and Machinima, so it was actually data from the top 200 YouTube personalities using VidStatsX) and what I found was this: the youngest performer (from the numbers, painstakingly, I could gather, mind you) is the South Korean guitarist Sungha Jung (“jwcfree,” subscriber rank: 113) who is 16-years-old. The oldest is one of the guys from The Piano Guys (subscriber rank: 125) who is 47. The mean age of a top YouTuber is 27 (rounded up from 26.64), but then again, these people mostly got to the top by being around a few years. The oldest top direct-to-the audience personality is apparently Rémi Gaillard (“nqtv” subscriber rank: 63) who is 38, but if you watch his videos, he does not seem close to “old.” In fact, he seems younger and cooler than me. Frowny face.
Olga Kay, a YouTuber I interviewed last year, is probably the first person I asked this question to, and her answer still seems to make the most sense: “I feel like I can still keep my audience for a while because they feel like ‘She’s our older sister,’ but sometimes I see where you see how people age through time and people go, ‘Oh, this is just not as hip anymore for us, so we just want to watch somebody who is a little more goofy.’ I can’t even think of anyone that is older on YouTube and still does amazing, but I feel like it’s all about young spirit.” Of course, she is 30, and only slightly older than the rest of her peers, so take everything she says in regards to age as the words of a clueless youngster.
3GoldenSistersTV, a channel that became famous for its three grandmotherly hosts sitting around reviewing the Kim Kardashian sex tape, is probably the most well-known established channel I can find where the participants meet the definition of “old” (the oldest one is 80 and the other two are 73), but they’ve only got 7,608 subscribers, so I guess it stands to reason that, currently, if you want to be old and popular, your fortune lies not with YouTube.
But then, it’s difficult to appeal to a YouTube crowd when the biggest demographic of YouTube viewers are 18-34 females (according to YouTube’s demographics page at least).
So while being young is important NOW on YouTube, will it be important LATER? Are viewers going to age along with their beloved creators? Fascinatingly, a young Mashable did a piece about the average age of YouTubers back in 2006, and surprise, surprise, the average age back then was … 27. Yup, it seems that the most popular sites back then, stuff like LonelyGirl15, didn’t continue on with its audience (of course LonelyGirl15 was basically the Milli Vanilli of YouTube, so no real surprise there). Of course, now that YouTube has brought Adsense into the picture and people like Jenna Marbles can be earning upwards of $3.3 million a year, the reasons to consider YouTube as a career have become more prevalent. But will we want to grow old with our YouTube “friends”? Will the lively antics of SMOSH seem as lively when they are balding and whining about their prostates? Hell, at the changing rate of technology, will there even be a YouTube?