By Sahil Patel
Even the biggest creator on YouTube isn’t immune to a core rule of the platform.
Gaming superstar PewDiePie, who goes by the birth name Felix Kjellberg, has more than 32 million subscribers on YouTube. So you can say he has the video site figured out, which was why it was a little surprising when, two months ago, he decided to turn off comments on his YouTube videos.
As any YouTube manual would tell you, comments are a core part of how creators engage with their audience, and use that relationship to build consistent viewership and attract new subscribers.
Kjellberg’s reasoning for turning them off made sense, though. He claimed that his “bros weren’t really there,” replaced by trolls, spam accounts, and self-promotional people who weren’t interested in truly interacting with the star.
Instead of commenting on his videos, Kjellberg encouraged his fans to find him on other social platforms. “By turning off the comments and making people have to reach out to me in a different way, it cuts out that fat,” he said in a recent interview with fellow YouTube stars Rhett & Link. “All of a sudden, I got comments from people that took the extra effort to write something thoughtful and meaningful.”
The numbers, though, show how important commenting — and by extension: engagement — is on YouTube. Because during the month that Kjellberg had disabled comments, his channel suffered a dip in subscriber and view growth.
According to data provided by Tubular Labs, during the week of September 8 — which came a week after Kjellberg disabled comments — his channel generated 98.4 million views. The following week (September 15): that number fell to 80.1 million views; then 78.1 million views the week of September 22; and 72.6 million views the week of September 29.
Measuring by subscriber growth, the drop was less pronounced: Kjellberg’s channel gained 184,000 subs the week of September 15, 180,000 the week of September 22, and 170,000 the week of September 29.
Expanding the period of measurement tells a similar story: From August 10 to September 9, PewDiePie hit 427 million views and gained 1 million subscribers on YouTube; from September 9 to October 9, those numbers dropped to 355.4 million views and 750,000 net subscriber additions. Between October 9 and November 9, his channel pulled in 346.2 million views and 698,000 net subscriber additions.
To be fair, even with the drops in viewership and subscriber growth, Kjellberg is still generating impressive numbers on YouTube. In a way, he’s grown too big to fail, and likely doesn’t care that his numbers have dropped slightly since shutting down comments. In the end, he’s happier, as he said.
Nonetheless, the data is indicative of how crucial engagement is on YouTube. It might be fine for a man who has 30 million fans to disable commenting, but it probably isn’t a good idea for creators with smaller subscriber numbers to do the same, no matter how morally bankrupt some trolls might be.