“The interviews she did with these viral personalities would get millions or tens of millions of views,” said Earnest Pettie, who leads YouTube’s trends and insights team. “It would be as visible as the original source material itself. For many people, the interviews were their first exposure to viral personalities. But people who were already exposed to it could go deeper than they could in a viral video.”
Money could be made, even if it wasn’t at the level of an influencer now. In 2009, when David DeVore posted a video of his 7-year-old son, who is also named David, groggily returning home from a trip to the dentist, the video quickly earned millions of views and became an early YouTube hit. By 2010, Mr. DeVore estimated that the family had taken in $150,000 from all the exposure, including the sales of T-shirts. And they’re not quite finished milking it, either. Earlier this month, Mr. DeVore auctioned “David After Dentist” as an NFT, or a nonfungible token, a digital collectible item, BuzzFeed reported. It sold for $13,000.
Mr. Kessler, from UTA, estimated that big digital personalities in the early 2010s could make in the mid-six figures.
An influencer now can make in the millions, and in a handful of cases, tens of millions. And as YouTube and TikTok helped the influencer industry take flight, Ms. DeGeneres’s role as a digital kingmaker began to wane.
“If we’re comparing it to now, people’s viral moments are shorter,” Ms. Weber said. “In the time it takes as a producer to call and say, ‘Come on Ellen!’ there’s a new viral moment somewhere else. It’ll be passé.”