BEDFORD — A Flip video camera in one hand, an Angry Birds toy in the other, 12-year-old Matthew Tomsicek set out to create his next YouTube hit.
It was cinema verite meeting “Sesame Street.” Within minutes, Matthew had turned his home into sets for his latest digital creation starring a blue, wingless hero, one of his 42 toy animals from the video game Angry Birds.
Tomsicek has 177 similar videos on YouTube.com, and collectively they have been viewed 6 million times — making him one of a new class of digital auteurs who are turning YouTube popularity into profits.
Tomsicek earned more than $3,000 in his first two months in YouTube’s Partner Program, which places ads on users’ pages and sends them a share of the revenue. More viewers mean more money.
For younger users like Matthew, YouTube embodies “the new age of lemonade stands,” said Bing Chen, head of global creator development and management for YouTube, which is owned by Google Inc., the online search giant. Chen would not say how much YouTube pays to its partners, but said that more than 1 million partners from around the world participate in the partner program, and the amount they collectively earn has doubled every year for the past four years.
The number of people who make more than $100,000 annually from the site grew into the thousands this year, he said.
That makes the site a boon for some creators of wacky videos, launching many Internet celebrities from all over the world, including a number of eclectic figures from Massachusetts. Along with Matthew — who says his focus is “on how fun it is to make these,” not on the money — YouTube stars include a collector of Japanese toys in Dracut, a dog trainer in Southwick, a pop duo in Brookline, a handful of comedians, and a few online educators. All have cashed in on the video platform.
“It could be a full-time job if I didn’t have four kids,” said Joshua Bernard, whose YouTube channel featuring reviews of Japanese toys garnered more than 60 million views and earns a few thousand dollars per month. But until YouTube starts offering health insurance or a 401(k) plan, he said, he will stick to his day job as a Web designer for a technology company. The money has helped turn a hobby — Bernard is an admitted “toy nerd” — into a side business, and allowed him to hire a few other toy reviewers for his YouTube channel.
With its upload-it-yourself online platform, YouTube has been filling the Internet with viral videos featuring skateboarding dogs and giggling infants since it was launched in 2005. Today, television still commands many more viewers in the United States, but YouTube says more content is uploaded to its site every month than all three major networks combined have broadcast in the past 60 years. The site accounts for about 80 percent of all online video watching, according to the Nielsen ratings service, which said in an August report that teens are using YouTube to listen to music more than they are tuning in radio stations.
Due to 800 million monthly visitors from around the globe, the site has also become an online bullhorn for the world’s biggest brands, as companies seek to exploit YouTube’s massive reach. At the same time, it is a showcase — and in some cases, a cash cow — for emerging musicians, small business owners, and basement hobbyists with Web cams and plenty of spare time.
A young band called Karmin is one of the biggest YouTube successes to come out of Massachusetts. Formed by Berklee College of Music graduates Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan in 2010, Karmin had a viral hit last year with its cover of hip-hop artist Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now.”
Within the first couple of hours after the video was posted on YouTube, it had about 13,000 views, said Nils Gums, the band’s manager, and “by the end of the day, it had reached 1 million. At that point, everyone was calling.” To date, the video has been viewed more than 71 million times.
That landed the band on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” and less than two months after the video debuted online, the duo signed a contract with Epic Records. Its first full-length album is due out this fall.
It was no accident that Karmin was discovered on YouTube. The band and Gums, who also runs a Los Angeles business that launches new artists on YouTube, set out to get attention by having the band perform its own renditions of Top 40 songs. “We were very strategic about the whole process,” Gums said. “We knew from the beginning that we were aiming for a viral video.”
Finding success on YouTube is all about persistence and authenticity, Chen said. “You find people really, really honing in on their passions.” YouTube introduced the partner program in 2007, soon after Google bought the video service for $1.65 billion, to increase the reach of advertising on the site. Google, which reported total revenue of $37.9 billion in 2011, does not break out earnings for its various properties, but in June, Citigroup Inc. analyst Mark Mahaney estimated that YouTube will take in $2.4 billion in revenue this year after its pays out money to partners. Continued...