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History is repeating itself as MrBeast and T-series battle for YouTube's top spot

Lindsay Dodgson   

History is repeating itself as MrBeast and T-series battle for YouTube's top spot
  • MrBeast is set to surpass T-Series as YouTube's top channel.
  • This shift marks a return to creator-led content over corporate channels.

MrBeast was buying up billboards back in 2019 in support of his friend and fellow YouTuber Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie.

Kjellberg was in the midst of a battle for YouTube's number one spot because another channel — the Indian music label T-Series — was closing in.

Kjellberg had held the title since 2013, but T-Series was fast approaching, leading YouTubers all over the platform to urge people to subscribe to PewDiePie and keep YouTube a place for independent creators over corporations.

Now, for MrBeast, history is repeating itself, except this time, he is the one closing in on YouTube's biggest channel, T-Series, And it looks like he's soon going to win the top spot.

The victory would be big for MrBeast personally, but also for all the other creators who long for the old days of YouTube and have voiced concerns over the platform's direction for some time.

While it is thriving from a business standpoint, many long-standing creators are questioning their future on YouTube with the looming threat of more AI-generated content, as well as the platform's constant changes.

Amid an expected mass exodus from the platform, a win for independent creators could have a positive ripple effect.

YouTube going back to its roots

Donaldson said one of the reasons he wants to hold the top spot is in honor of Kjellberg.

Kjellberg lost the battle with T-Series back in 2019. The race to 100 million subscribers was eagerly viewed across the platform but was also peppered with controversy.

Some of Kjellberg's fans were accused of racism toward T-Series and its supporters, and Kjellberg himself was criticized for some of the lyrics in his diss track "bitch lasagna" containing offensive stereotypes of Indian people.

Overall, though, T-Series' victory was seen as a loss for all independent YouTubers, who considered it a move toward commercialization.

At the time of writing, T-Series has 264 million subscribers, while MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, is close behind with 253 million.

"Naw, subscribe to me instead," Donaldson replied to a recent post by T-Series on X asking people to support the channel. It received 137,000 likes and 2.6 million views.

According to the social media analytics site SocialBlade, Donaldson is forecast to reach 275 million subscribers in the next 2 months, while T-Series will reach 268 million in the same period.

Donaldson is known for over-the-top stunts such as shredding Lamborghinis, giving away massive amounts of cash, and recreating the Netflix phenomenon "Squid Game." He's also become famous for his charity work, planting millions of trees, building wells, and paying for people to have cataract surgery.

Despite his huge success and earning around $700 million a year, Donaldson is a creator through and through and invests everything he makes back into his videos.

Gabe Gordon, an influencer marketing expert and the CEO of digital agency Reach Agency, told Business Insider the shift "marks a major change in YouTube's landscape."

In 2019, Donaldson wasn't even in the top 10 creators on YouTube, so he's come a long way in five years.

"It's a testament that not only is creator-based content the most popular, beating out music, but YouTube has fully returned to its roots as a creator-based and fueled platform," Gordon said.

Creators are on his side

Donaldson's career has not been free from criticism. Some branded him a "white savior" in response to his philanthropic efforts and accused him of exploiting poor people for views.

Donaldson posted his thoughts on X in response, suggesting people on social media are never happy. In one post, he said despite saying he wanted to use his money "to help people" and promising to give all his wealth away before he died, he was still branded as "bad."

The working environment he cultivates has also been scrutinized, such as how he calls his employees "friends of friends" rather than giving them official titles. (Donaldson hasn't responded directly about his work culture, but a spokesperson told Time that safety on set was "incredibly important and taken very seriously." They also said medics and "experienced professionals" were on set at all times.)

But overall, Donaldson's success is unmatched, with an upcoming Amazon Prime show, his Feastables and MrBeast Burger empire, and multiple enviable revenue streams for his videos.

Creators, in general, are also on his side.

Isla Moon, a YouTuber and OnlyFans creator, told BI that Donaldson is setting trends and standards for content, whether that's titles, thumbnails, or the way he runs his business.

He's been setting an example for other independent creators since the start of his career, Moon added, and catching up to T-Series "proves his formula works."

"This breakthrough will show independent creators that they can be more successful than large corporations," she said. "However, it requires years of work, a willingness to learn as you go, delegation, and teamwork."

Donaldson has invested a lot of time and money into staying relevant, said Katya Varbanova, the founder and CEO of Viral Marketing Stars.

He makes changes to his content when he thinks the time is right. For example, now he's in his mid-20s, he's started slowing his videos down with the goal of focusing more on storytelling and longer-form content.

What sets him apart even more is that he's made YouTube his main objective, Varbanova added.

Donaldson has been determined to become YouTube's No. 1 creator for some time. Over the past few years, he has "increased his team, his production value, and his ambitions in order to reach that goal," Varbanova said.

While some veteran creators are settling down and focusing on their families or going off-platform, Donaldson still puts everything he has into YouTube.

"MrBeast has made that choice, to make this his number one priority," Varbanova said.

"Once again, traditional media will be reminded of the power of individual creators."

BI has contacted Donaldson's reps for comment.

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