Read UPDATES at bottom of the piece.
When I speak to indie filmmakers, there’s always a lot of confusion about the potential money that can be earned by posting shorts on the Internet, especially by posting them onto YouTube. An article in last month’s Wall Street Journal shed some much needed light on the situation. The article said that those who join YouTube’s Partner Program receive between $1,500 and $4,500(US) for every million video views. The wide variance in price is attributed to the country and platform where the video is viewed.
According to YouTube, they had 30,000 partners in 2011, up from 20,000 in 2010. “Several hundred” of those partners made more than $100,000, which is an 80% increase from the “couple of hundred” partners who achieved the six-figure earnings mark in 2010. Using that data, I think it would be fair to guess that they have at least 350 people earning six-figures, or slightly over 1% of their YouTube Partners.
Using the numbers above, I decided to figure out what some of the most successful animators on YouTube are making. I’ve shared the numbers below, which are not yearly earnings, but based on the total number of views the filmmaker has received. Considering how difficult it is to make money with animated shorts, the numbers are fairly impressive, especially if viewed as a single revenue stream as part of a larger plan that includes broadcast sales to foreign TV channels, merchandising, dvd sales, digital downloads, and so forth.
It’s also impressive that many of the most successful animators on YouTube are young filmmakers whose reputations were established exclusively online. Another important point to consider is that all of these animators have dozens of films posted on their channel. There are no examples yet of people earning this kind of money from just a handful of films. Simon’s Cat has the least videos of any of the channels below, with only twenty.
Animation Filmmaker Earnings on YouTube
29.3 million video views (as of Mar. 19, 2012)
Estimated total earnings based on views: $43,950 – $131,850
36.3 million video views
Estimated total earnings based on views: $54,450 – $163,350
66.7 million video views
Estimated total earnings based on views: $100,050 – $300,150
74.4 million video views
Estimated total earnings based on views: $111,600 – $334,800
102.4 million video views
Estimated total earnings based on views: $153,600 – $460,800
FilmCow (aka Charlie the Unicorn)
227.3 million video views
Estimated total earnings based on views: $340,950 – $1,022,850
232.3 million video views
Estimated total earnings based on views: $348,450 – $1,045,350
Daneboe (aka The Annoying Orange)
628.8 million video views
Estimated total earnings based on views: $943,200 – $2,829,600
UPDATE (9:53pm ET): Since this piece was published, I’ve been in contact with Harry Partridge, one of the filmmakers whose estimated earnings were posted above. He posted a comment on Twitter that said in part, “I don’t make anywhere near half of their lowest ballpark. Crazy.” When he posted that comment on Twitter, he assumed that I was talking about yearly earnings. We cleared up that I was referring to total earnings based on the number of pageviews listed above, NOT yearly earnings.
Harry also provided some ballpark figures for what he’s made from YouTube since 2009. The numbers turned out to be slightly more than half of the lowest estimated earning, which means he has been earning a more modest $750-800 per million pageviews instead of the $1,500-$4,500 claimed in the Wall Street Journal piece. More recently, he has joined with Channelflip, which he says pays him more annually than YouTube, but which is still a relatively modest sum. However, I should point out that I have confirmed with other filmmakers that they have earned the higher figures listed in the WSJ piece so there are apparently wide gaps between what different filmmakers earn. The lack of transparency in YouTube’s payments to its partners is a great reason to be having this discussion and leveling the playing field for filmmakers who are thinking of posting their work on that platform.
UPDATE #2: Harry pointed out that though the videos were posted beginning in 2006, YouTube started paying out in 2009. I’ve updated the above to reflect that the earning period has been the last three years. He also writes, “Overall I’m not bothered by the article now it states that these are total earnings, my concerns about it arose from the fact that I thought it was yearly.”
UPDATE #3: Filmmaker Cyriak wrote a comment below in which he says that he hasn’t monetized most of his video vieww as part of YouTube’s Partner Program. He says that his most recent earnings have been in the range of $600 per million video views.