Disney dumps YouTube star PewDiePie for anti-Semitic content

Disney has cut ties with YouTube star Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, after he uploaded videos with anti-Semitic content.
Disney has cut ties with YouTube star Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, after he uploaded videos with anti-Semitic content. PHOTO: ST FILE

Los Angeles (Bloomberg) - Walt Disney Co.'s Maker Studios cut ties with Felix Kjellberg, the 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 didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

PewDiePie's channel is one of the most subscribed on Alphabet Inc.'s YouTube service, bringing in millions of dollars in advertising and partnership deals for the Swedish celebrity. While he's an important figure in video-gaming culture, Kjellberg 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 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 the Swedish YouTube star took some of them down subsequently.

YouTube had banked on Kjellberg as one of the marquee names in its YouTube Red subscription service, which offers original programs such as Scare PewDiePie, a show that had been renewed for a second season. YouTube didn't respond to requests for comment.

Kjellberg made about US$15 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.

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

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 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, which has lost senior executives as Disney has attempts to retool it.