Just how big is Oprah Winfrey in 2015? When Oprah Winfrey bought a 10% stake in Weight Watchers this week, shares in the company more than doubled over a single weekend, jumping from $6.79 on Friday to $15.09 on Monday. In the 2008 presidential election, Oprah’s endorsement of then-candidate Barack Obama is thought to have helped him secure millions of votes. More than just a celebrity, Oprah has been called the “Queen of All Media.”
Of course, that was before the rise of new media outlets like YouTube, where a new kind of celebrity is earning an Oprah-sized audience. YouTube stars like Swedish video game blogger Felix Kjellberg, known to his more than 40 million loyal subscribers as PewDiePie. This week, PewDiePie topped the Forbes list of top-earning YouTube stars.
This new generation of “influencers” make their money through video advertisements, celebrity product endorsements, film and TV cameos, book deals, and public appearances. As the biggest star of new media, PewDiePie is quickly becoming as popular among teens as Oprah is with their parents.
When YouTube decided to launch a video-streaming service to rival Netflix, the company recruited PewDiePie to star in one of their first-ever original productions. With his YouTube videos, upcoming reality show, and hugely popular social media accounts, Forbes estimates the Swedish digital broadcaster earns about $12 million every year.
“Social media has definitely changed the game, but it still has a long way to go before niche “followers” rival the monetization power of mainstream viewers,” says Christopher Lawrence, CEO, Celebrity Endorsement Agency, Inc. “The biggest difference, both in popularity and in earning power, rests solely in the frame of reference. Popular social media users are seen as fun, quick distractions while TV and movie stars are able to hold their audience’s attention for longer periods of time as professional entertainers. Social media is a good start, but just like PewDiePie, its biggest “stars” need to work their tails off to get mainstream attention.”
Besides PewDiePie, the Forbes list includes YouTube stars like Michelle Phan, who has earned $3 million with makeup and beauty tutorials. Then there’s Lindsey Stirling, a violinist who’s launched a national music career through her popular YouTube videos. So how does this new generation of celebrities compare to the Oprah Effect? Without a doubt, Oprah still commands far more influence, by several orders of magnitude.
Within 72 hours of purchasing a 10% stake in Weight Watchers, the Oprah effect raised the stock price so much that Winfrey earned a profit of $45.6 million.