Disney drops YouTube star

PewDiePie.
PewDiePie.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

LOS ANGELES • Walt Disney Co's Maker Studios cut ties with Felix Kjellberg, the Swedish YouTube star known as PewDiePie, after he posted videos with anti-Semitic content on his channel.

"Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate," the company said in a statement. "Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward."

Kjellberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

His channel is one of the most subscribed on Alphabet Inc's YouTube service, bringing in millions of dollars in advertising and partnership deals for him.

While he is an important figure in video-gaming culture, he is also one of the rare YouTube personalities to cross over into the mainstream. TMZ cameras have followed him around in Los Angeles and late-night talk-show hosts such as Stephen Colbert have welcomed him as a guest.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that PewDiePie had posted nine videos with anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery since August, though he took some of them down subsequently.

YouTube had banked on him as one of the marquee names in its YouTube Red subscription service, which offers original programmes such as Scare PewDiePie, a show that had been renewed for a second season. YouTube did not respond to requests for comment.

Kjellberg made about US$15 million (S$21.2 million) last year as YouTube's highest-paid star, Forbes magazine said in December. He had more than 53 million subscribers to his main channel on YouTube as of Monday.

He has run afoul of big tech services before. Twitter briefly suspended his account last year after he posted a profile picture that could be viewed as obscene. He made matters more confusing by claiming, in jest, that he had been suspended because he had joined the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The popularity of stars like Kjellberg among young viewers is a principal reason Disney paid US$675 million for Maker Studios in a deal struck in 2014. Disney has been a direct partner with Kjellberg, with Maker Studios co-creating a YouTube network called Revelmode to showcase PewDiePie videos and related programming.

The YouTube star's behaviour is just the latest headache Disney has encountered with Maker Studios, which has lost senior executives as Disney attempts to retool it.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2017, with the headline 'Disney drops YouTube star'. Print Edition | Subscribe