YouTube creators now rank as some of the most influential voices in contemporary culture. One of the UK’s richest and most successful YouTubers, DanTDM, has a reported net worth greater than many professional footballers.
The 31-year-old has turned his love of video games – and of breaking apart virtual blocks in Minecraft - into a cultural brand.
The online star, whose real name is Daniel Middleton, was the most watched YouTuber in the world at one point and currently boasts more than 27.7 million followers on his most popular YouTube channel.
While working in a supermarket, he began his online career with a channel for a trading card game, having always loved making “silly adverts or clay animations” as a child with a camcorder.
But it wasn’t long before he moved on to Minecraft, his commentaries on which would prove to be his golden ticket.
DanTDM’s channel, which began in 2012, went on to land 300 to 400 million hits a month at one stage.
For the uninitiated, he is most famous for posting videos of himself playing Minecraft and creating stories around it while voicing the characters.
His early success took him by surprise.
“I think I had a million subscribers. At that point I was gaining 10 to 20,000 subs (subscribers) a day,” DanTDM tells the BBC.
“And the views were just ridiculous. At one point, we hit the most viewed channel on the entire site.”
But how did a boy from Aldershot become one of the world’s most successful YouTubers?
“I was really shy at school. I would always just sit and listen rather than be someone that talks in front of people at school presentations.
“A lot of YouTubers are naturally introverted, but very creative. YouTube helped me to come out of my shell more.”
DanTDM started out with his commentary just as YouTube was beginning to grow and quickly became his very own production house, spending long hours building up his profile.
“I was in a lucky position where I started it at the right time. I found a niche pretty early on as well. And then YouTube just grew exponentially over that time. So a platform with that many eyes on it is going to make money.”
He explains that growing his channel was “a little bit addictive”.
“A good thing about YouTube is if something doesn’t work, you just don’t do it the next day. There’s no production schedule. You can just change what you’re doing on a daily basis. So it was really fun to try new things every day creatively. I love doing that.”
What was it like when he realised how much money could be made from his content creation?
“I wasn’t really using it [the money] because I was making videos, so I didn’t have time!” he jokes.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
In one of his videos, he revealed he got severely depressed during the isolation of the pandemic after becoming a father.
Opening up to his followers about his mental health was important.
“It was helpful for me to convey how I was feeling to them, as to a reason why I wasn’t making as many videos.”
He also cites the pressure of trying to come up with new material and is alert to the risk of burnout: “You need to have that brain space.”
The online star adds that people would message him saying his videos helped them through hard times and that he found YouTube and gaming a distraction when feeling low.
He is also acutely aware of his responsibility to his fans. DanTDM’s content has largely been aimed at children and he has always been careful about making his content suitable for younger age groups.
“No blood obviously, no swearing. I would always think, ‘What if my nan watched these videos? If my parents watched this, would they be proud?’
“I was super careful before but now that I’ve aged up… I feel more comfortable with the audience I’ve grown into. Not to be as… squeaky clean, I guess.”
Married for 10 years to childhood sweetheart Jemma, the couple now have two young children.
As DanTDM’s original fanbase has grown up, he is now scaling back his video-making. With several sidelines already, including graphic novels, live shows and merchandise, he is hoping to explore other creative avenues.
He says he’s “very fortunate” and “barely spends any time” in his office anymore.
“So I can spend time with my kids. I can still make videos every day. But what’s the point if you’re missing out on your kids growing up?”
Does he think there should be as much regulation for online content as there is on TV?
“It’s tough because I feel like people should be able to make the content they want. But I think kids should be supervised at all times on YouTube.”
It’s a timely topic, with the Online Safety Bill in its final parliamentary stages and due to become law shortly.
It aims to make social media companies more responsible for their users’ safety on their platforms and to crack down on illegal content.
Alison Lomax, managing director of YouTube UK and Ireland, is comfortable with the increased scrutiny.
“We’re very welcoming of the Online Safety Bill. We’ve been focused on online safety long before regulation came.”
Having two teenage children herself, Lomax says it’s also her responsibility “to make sure my kids are watching appropriate content”, pointing out that YouTube Kids is for under 13s.
YouTube now reaches more people under 55 in the UK than any other site, according to research by Enders Analysis, and is only beaten by Facebook for the over 55s.
YouTube’s creator economy contributed over £2bn to the UK’s GDP and created over 45,000 fulltime jobs in 2022, according to the company’s most recent annual impact report.
In the UK, more than 65,000 creators and partners received income linked to their YouTube presence, something Ms Lomax says they are “incredibly proud of”.
But it found itself under pressure earlier this year over content from controversial influencer Andrew Tate, with YouTube ultimately banning him last month.
The Google-owned social media site took action following Meta’s decision to ban Tate from Facebook and Instagram.
“I’m very confident about the policies we have in place. We also have human reviewers as well for any content that is flagged,” Lomax says.
The tech giant also suspended Russell Brand’s channels from making money from adverts for “violating” its “creator responsibility policy” earlier this week.
The move came after Brand was accused of rape and sexual assaults between 2006 and 2013. He denies the claims, saying his relationships were “always consensual”.
“We want to make the internet a very safe place,” Ms Lomax says. “and we’ve been working very hard to do that.”