Money

One of YouTube's biggest stars makes $6 million a year and turns down 90% of sponsorships

YouTube star Rosanna "Ro" Pansino has transformed her love of baking and what she calls "corny dad jokes" into a multimillion-dollar business. With more than eight-and-a-half million YouTube subscribers and over two billion cumulative video views, Pansino's baking channel, which teaches viewers how to create everything from Batman cupcakes to Pac-man Popsicles, has launched the 32-year-old into the upper echelon of YouTube stardom — and it's brought in some serious dough.

In 2016, Pansino was among the top ten highest paid YouTube creators, earning an estimated $6 million dollars, according to Forbes. Despite her financial success, Pansino says money has never been a driving force behind her content creation.

"From the very beginning, right when I started making videos on YouTube, money wasn't even a factor," Pansino tells CNBC while appearing at the annual VidCon convention in Anaheim. "I was making videos for over a year and a half before I found out it was even possible to make a career out of making content online."

Along with thousands of others, Pansino has indeed made a career out of creating online content. But earlier this year, many creators saw a drop in revenue after a number of big-name brands boycotted YouTube, following an exposé which revealed that some ads were placed next to offensive content. Since that time, many advertisers have returned to the platform, but according to Tony Chen, who runs technology and data platform Channel Factory, "since three months ago, we've seen creators decrease revenue as much as 80-to-90 percent. So it's a significant piece of their revenue."

YouTube star Keaton Keller
YouTube star Keaton Keller

YouTube star Keaton Keller, who has around two million subscribers to his "TechSmartt" channel, says he has seen a 30-to-40 percent dip in advertising revenue as a result of the boycott. "YouTube has forced us to change our ad game with all the advertisers leaving," he says. "It's a blessing in disguise – we had to find other ways to make it."

Keller says he has been able to recoup some of that lost revenue through sponsorships, which also allows him to increase his budgets for videos.

By contrast, Pansino says the boycott hasn't had a material impact on her revenue, primarily due to the nature of her content. "I have not seen any decline. My content from the very beginning, because it's baking videos and tutorials, is very family friendly … I made content from day one that I want my dad and my mom to watch."

YouTube star Rosanna Pansino
YouTube star Rosanna Pansino

That family-friendly content has made Pansino an attractive partner for brands, but she says she turns down the vast majority of sponsorship offers. "Whenever I decide to partner with a brand, it has to be a brand that I absolutely love and I use in real life. I would say that I turn down over 90 percent of opportunities that come my way," she says.

According to Pansino, a large part of her decision-making process comes down to the fact that she feels a need to be authentic to her fans. Pansino says if she were to do an ad for a hazelnut-flavored product, for example, her die-hard viewers would remember instances where she said she doesn't like hazelnuts.

"That's something that's really beautiful about being a digital creator," she says. "People keep you honest. They call you out, they notice, and I think it's great."

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