ChuChu has changed over time—it has slowed the pacing of its videos, focused on the key elements of scenes, and made more explicitly educational videos. But in the wilds of YouTube, the videos with the most views, not the most educational value, are the ones that rise to the top. ChuChu’s newer videos, which have more of the features Johnson looks for, have not had the time to hoover up as much attention, so the old ones keep appearing in YouTube searches and suggestions.
In a widely circulated essay last year, the artist James Bridle highlighted the many violent, odd, and nearly robotic children’s videos sitting in the vaults of YouTube. They didn’t seem made by human hands, he wrote, or at least not completely. Some were sadistic or sick. (After Bridle’s essay was published, YouTube undertook an effort to purge the site of “content that attempts to pass as family-friendly, but clearly is not,” and ultimately removed some of the disturbing videos the essay cited.) Others seemed like grab bags of keywords that had been successful for more professional operations: nursery rhymes, surprise eggs, finger family, learning colors. These were videos reverse engineered from whatever someone might enter into the YouTube search box. And though none of these videos has achieved the scale of ChuChu’s work, they definitely get seen, and are occasionally recommended to a child who has been happily watching something more virtuous.
YouTube does not usually offer a download link for its videos, and intends for them to be viewed through its website interface. A small number of videos, can be downloaded as MP4 files. Numerous third-party web sites, applications and browser plug-ins allow users to download YouTube videos. In February 2009, YouTube announced a test service, allowing some partners to offer video downloads for free or for a fee paid through Google Checkout. In June 2012, Google sent cease and desist letters threatening legal action against several websites offering online download and conversion of YouTube videos. In response, Zamzar removed the ability to download YouTube videos from its site.
This means that if someone skips an ad, or is running an ad blocker, then you don’t get paid for that view. This makes estimating the amount of views a video has and how much a user makes off of the video very challenging. It also depends if it’s a video ad at the front of your video, or just a box at the bottom of your page; this determines how many people interact with your ad and the amount of money that can be made.
ChuChu’s founders aren’t blind to the power of new-media platforms, or the undertow of crappy YouTube producers, or the addictive power of devices, but the magnitude and improbability of their success more than balance the scales. They don’t quite seem to know why (or how, exactly) they’ve been given this opportunity to speak to millions from an office in South India, but they’re not going to throw away the chance. After all, there are so many stories to tell.
In January 2018, the 23-year-old elder Paul brother was kicked off YouTube’s Google Preferred program, which gives favorable ad rates to popular channels, after he filmed a video in Japan that showed an apparent suicide hanging from a tree. He apologized. His income from videos (pratfalls, pranks) and brand deals took a hit, but loyal fans kept his hefty merchandise business afloat.