The growth of video as a means of communicating and engaging with people online is on a steady rise.
Be it the many make-up tutorials, cover songs, cooking, commentary or even comedy, YouTube and other platforms like Facebook and Instagram, it is clear the trend is gaining more traction.
There is a whole new generation of superstars who neither sing nor act that are taking over and all they do is sit in front of a camera and share their stories with the world and they are making a killing.
In a 2015 survey commissioned by Variety magazine, it found that the five most influential figures among Americans ages 13-18 were all YouTube stars.
“YouTubers were judged to be more engaging, extraordinary and relatable than mainstream stars, who were rated as being smarter and more reliable,” read the survey.
Kenya, while still lagging behind when it comes to the number of creators, is showing potential with a few notable accounts showing signs of growth.
According to a YouTube for Africa Summit held in London last week at the YouTube Space, the Sub-Saharan region is seeing growth on YouTube although it is slow.
“African YouTube creators and consumers are faced with challenges like high cost of bundles, government regulations and the general infrastructure,” said Teju Ajani, head of content partnerships for YouTube in Sub Saharan Africa.
But she says in spite of all those challenges, there is hope. “Video uploads have doubled year after year for the last two years and also the watch-time on mobile devices has grown 120 per cent over the last few years,” she says adding, “We are also pleased that Africans are watching their fellow Africans on YouTube.”
Some of the few African creators of note include: Kangai Mwiti a make-up artiste who offers tutorials on her channel, Lydia Dinga, a lifestyle and fitness vlogger (video blogger) and Chef Raphael.
Others were, Anne Kansiime, Theodora Lee, Suzelle DIY, Sisi Yemmie, Pap Culture, Naija’s craziest, Grant Hinds and EstareLIVE.
We managed to corner Dinga who has more than 44,000 subscribers, Hinds with 18,000 and Eman Kellam a British creator of Nigerian descent with an impressive 68,000.
We wanted to know the secret to having a successful YouTube channel that not only draws eyeballs but also brings in money.
According to Dinga, 25, who started her channel two years ago, there is no secret, just hard work, creativity and consistency.
“People have to want to watch you so you must be interesting and have a friendly personality,” she says. “But you also must check on video quality, be creative and very consistent.”
While she hasn’t started making the kind of money that would see her quit her day job, she is making enough to afford her a nice holiday and to buy her YouTube channel equipment.
Kellam, who shot the viral video of him pranking the father about getting a 14-year-old girl pregnant while he was 17, lives off his YouTube earnings.
The tall, soft spoken lad, who joins university next year, says his secret was coming up with videos that are easily sharable and funny.
He is now working with major celebrities and international movie studios who approach him trying to tap into his young audience.
Kellam grew up watching YouTube videos and always wanted to join the Space especially since he never saw black men be YouTube creators.
“The creative process is intense, I can spend hours shooting a video only for it not to impress me at the edit stage and I have to go back and reshoot and if that still doesn’t make me happy, I bin the whole video(s).”
Dinga and Kellam have similar challenges — that of being people of colour in a country where being white is seen as mainstream and more bankable.
“It is frustrating, I get passed up by brands for creators with far fewer followers or I find out I am to be paid less than the white creators for the same work,” he says.
As for Grant Hinds, he had to move from South Africa to London to try and grow his business. The online gamer and commentator says the infrastructure frustrated him and also his niche audience isn’t as vocal down south.
“I used to upload a normal video for hours while here I can do it in a matter of seconds and that really used to slow me down,” he says adding that he is making money now.
YouTube is said to pay about Sh200 per thousand views so the more popular your videos are, the more money you take home.
According to Forbes, last year, some 12 internet celebrities earned a combined $70.5 million, a 23 per cent rise from 2015.
That list was topped PewDiePie, a controversial Swede (real name Felix Avrid Ulf Kjellberg) who shares snippets of himself playing videogames for his 50 million subscribers. He took home a staggering $15 million.
But don’t expect to earn such monies the easy way. According to the creators, it takes an average of two years to gain traction and attract return viewers and subscribers.
For many YouTube creators, the Space was an option after most of their ideas were rubbished by traditional broadcasters or they were told they did not fit the mould of TV but refused to give up.
“If you have a passion for video and believe you have a story to tell, go ahead, YouTube is free and is the biggest platform there is in the world and no matter your content, you will find an audience,” says Teju. “Just be authentic and consistent.”
“African YouTube creators and consumers are faced with challenges like high cost of bundles, government regulations and the general infrastructure”