YouTube’s OG creators have left and its golden era is over: What’s next for the platform and its new vloggers?

Posted by Lauren Harris in Comment

4 months ago

Hannah Witton is done. Not with content creation and YouTube entirely, but with her eponymous original and main channel that has been focused on sex and relationships content since 2011.

And why? Witton has a reputation for being open, honest and transparent with her audience, especially around the behind-the-scenes of her content and the business decisions she makes, so, naturally, she has explained all.

For years, she has used her annual goal-setting and wrap-up videos to discuss her company’s financials and the progress she feels she has made, share new ideas for ways to revitalise her content, and query whether the time is coming to step off the hamster wheel of making YouTube videos.

Witton welcomed her first child in 2022 and has admitted that she found taking maternity leave (albeit a massively shortened one) and returning to work on a part-time basis difficult – financially, emotionally and motivationally.

The views haven’t been the same, the podcast downloads haven’t been the same, the engagement hasn’t been the same, and all the while Witton’s outgoings have ballooned, on childcare, additional staff to cover the load, and bigger and better content as part of her 2023 “go big or go home” mantra.

12 years in, the vessel of sex and relationships content ideas is running low, the business is looking less and less viable, and the engagement for the effort she puts in is no longer worth it, especially while looking down the barrel of potential burnout.

So she’s done. The content on the Hannah Witton and Friends channel (renamed as part of a plan to make it a more collaborative effort, à la the Sierra Schultzzie Collective) will remain but nothing further will be posted. The Doing It podcast is completed. However, the More Hannah channel – where, interestingly, engagement increased in almost inverse correlation to the main channel – will continue as usual, alongside the new career goal of pursuing project management and passing on the knowledge she has picked up along the way to other creators.

A good decision? If nothing else, it is certainly one well made. Years in the making, for those paying attention, and half a year of really mulling it over, preparing and considering before making any official announcement. After the news broke, Witton was inundated with comments from viewers, followers and Patreon members saying: “I only watch your other content. I stayed for your other content. I became a Patron to support you through your maternity leave and I never left.”

The More Hannah channel offers Witton opportunities in various verticals: beauty, fashion, lifestyle, parenting, organisation, reading, financial and more. This suggests the option of working with a wider range of partners, more brand deals and the ability to collaborate with those who may have previously found her sex content a turn-off.

However, what is a creator without a niche? CORQ’s 2023 Data Review found niche creators drove ten times more ad engagement than lifestyle generalists. In addition, some partners may look unfavourably on swapping 734K subscribers on the main channel for 88K on More Hannah.

Taking a step offline and looking to build a new career on more behind-the-scenes client work is a big decision and many – not just Witton subscribers – will be curious to see how it goes and what comes next.

Maybe YouTube isn’t forever

This news is the latest in a long-running saga of the OG YouTubers realising that maybe this isn’t forever. The golden era – think collabs, meet-ups, global conventions, the power of the Vlog Brothers, the 10M Zoella subscribers, the daily vloggers, reality show appearances, Vlogmas, challenge videos, pranks, YouTube roommates moving to the big city together and more – has somewhat drifted away. This can be put down to the emergence of Instagram and TikTok but also the creators, and their followers, growing up and moving on. In the end, for many YouTube turned out just to be a stepping stone.

For Zoella, it began with the rebrand to Zoe Sugg. The former queen of YouTube only posted two videos in the final two months of 2023. She got the house, the engagement ring, the two children and the luxury of only having to upload when she feels like it. Louise Pentland never made a secret of her desire to break into the mainstream media and didn’t upload a YouTube video at all in November and December 2023. Instead, her focus shifted to writing books, Instagram brand deals and becoming a columnist for Hello! Magazine. Meanwhile, Carrie Hope Fletcher’s website, Hopeful Shop and book club are nowhere to be seen.

Daniel Howell – formerly Dan Is Not On Fire – started posting on YouTube 14 years ago, with varying degrees of regularity until his 2019 coming out video. And then he disappeared. His May 2022 Why I Quit YouTube return video has 3.4M views and touched on a number of familiar themes: feeling exploited, losing confidence, the difficulty of parasocial relationships, the battle between creating meaningful content and the ever-changing algorithm, the burnout, the breakdowns. Howell is back but he’s being more careful this time.

At 34-years-old, Melanie Murphy recently discussed being an “ageing influencer”, feeling too old to make YouTube videos and that her life with two young children is too repetitive to be interesting. Having children and how that affects your life, business and content as a female creator is a common theme here. Once you’ve achieved and vlogged all the personal milestones of a 20- and 30-something, what’s left to share? Plenty, Murphy believes – life is just beginning and the audience for such content is absolutely there.

The future of YouTube and its creators

The platform is certainly not going anywhere soon and has much more to give. It has 2.7 billion active users worldwide, its Q3 2023 ad revenue reached US $7.95 billion (£6.29 billion) – both figures marking year-on-year increases – and it is a popular site for partnership programmes and brand deals, being reportedly the priciest platform. A recent survey named it the most popular social media site among US teens, dominating over TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram.

In 2023, the biggest YouTube stars were MrBeast (136M subscribers) and PewDiePie (111M subscribers), according to SocialBlade analysis by Insider, as they have been for years. Some fans have registered concern for MrBeast putting himself at risk of burnout, similar to PewDiePie, but he’s claimed he has another 30 years in him.

Gamer and challenges and reactions vlogger Alia Marie Shelesh, AKA SSSniperWolf, (33.3M subscribers) was the only UK-based creator on the top 30 list alongside Ireland-based gamer Seán McLoughlin, AKA Jacksepticeye, (29M subscribers).

For young and emerging YouTube talent, see Roxi (Roxxsaurus) who posts everything from celebrity fashion reviews and makeup tutorials to testing viral TikTok products and cool life hacks. Irish lifestyle YouTuber Meg Hughes did her own short and sweet version of Vlogmas and recently worked with Lush. Esme Higgs combines hardworking equestrian realness with luxury fashion and country living aspiration.

Gamer Jesse McNamara (Plumbella) shares gameplay and discusses her experience with autism, as well as running her own clothing brand Lunar Isle with her family. Student Christina Aaliyah uploads regular videos about motivation tips, desk set-ups, and the realities of dating at university. Ali Woods is a half-English, half-Scottish comedian who posts stand-up routines, sketches and Shorts on YouTube on the topics of observational comedy, lad culture, football and current events.

For these creators, the future is bright – the audience is there, the opportunities are there, and there is greater awareness now than ever of what it takes to both succeed on YouTube and protect your mental and physical health.

So what happens if you can’t keep up with the hamster wheel? Sometimes your only option is to get off. For Witton, she’s ending on a high and on her own terms, treating the announcement as an opportunity to celebrate 12 years of work, progress and experiences. Her new motto as 2024 begins? Take it easy, no need to rush, and let’s see what happens.

By Lauren Harris, CORQ editor. Picture credit: Hannah Witton via Instagram