Illustration by Dan MITCHELL for the Financial Times, May 2019
How can a four-year-old be raking in more than the UK prime minister earns?
That was the first question that entered my mind when it was recently reported that YouTube’s most lucrative channel in the UK did not feature a pop superstar, a legendary rock band or the biggest TV show around . . . but a child from Lancashire.
Gabriella — or Gaby, as she is known to her 12m-plus subscribers — beat the likes of Ed Sheeran, Queen and Britain’s Got Talent to be named the country’s biggest YouTube sensation by social media analytics company Social Blade. It reckons that Gaby could be pulling in between £2,100 and £40,000 a day, depending on daily views, with earnings of up to £1m a year.
This feat seems all the more remarkable — and bemusing — when you see her videos. Gaby playing with Barbie dolls. Gaby dressing up as a Disney princess. Gaby and her five-year-old brother, Alex, splashing about in the bath in swimsuits, then acting out nursery rhymes — this one got 425m views and counting. To be fair, I am hardly the target audience.
Laura Edwards, co-founder of Viral Talent, the channel’s agent, points to its success in engaging pre-school viewers with cheerful, colourful content. Children are drawn to the jolly soundtrack, cartoonish graphics and so-called “unboxing” moments in which brand new toys are gleefully unwrapped, a phenomenon that one marketing expert called “toddler crack”.
And the cuteness belies a carefully choreographed operation. Toys and Little Gaby is no side hustle but an increasingly professional channel run full-time by Gaby’s mother, 28-year-old Sabine Vilumsone.
New videos are posted two or three times a week and Companies House records, filed by Ms Vilumsone, reveal the business had net current assets of £188,175 as of April 30 2018.
From gamers and pranksters to make-up artists and trick shot specialists, they are among a new generation of entrepreneurs sharing the spoils of YouTube’s vast advertising revenues. These are not reported by its parent, Google (a subsidiary of Alphabet), but were estimated at $3.36bn last year by market research firm eMarketer.First unleashed on to the world in 2005, the site began as a repository for amusing short clips — remember the sneezing Panda? — and has gradually evolved into a vast alternative broadcasting empire.
It has competition, of course: Instagram is increasingly populated by videos (though they last less than a minute).
But marketing experts say the greater attention span and all-important “engagement” required to be successful on YouTube has made it more commercially valuable.
So could I become a YouTube millionaire? If a four-year-old can achieve what Gaby has — albeit with the help of a savvy “momager” — surely anyone can? The truth, I soon discover, is far more complicated.