Is YouTube’s golden age over?: Exploring diverse revenue streams for YouTubers in 2021

If you’re familiar with the YouTube ecosystem, you’ll know that the word “adpocalypse” has taken a life of its own. It refers to the measures YouTube took to shield advertisers and their ads from being associated with controversial content. YouTube’s measures ended up affecting millions of YouTubers – including those running non-controversial channels. 

These content creators experienced a significant drop in ad revenue. They had to find other revenue streams to replace the income that they lost because of these new measures. The YouTube community has indeed shown its resilience in dealing with the “adpocalypse”, and many have thrived despite its dire consequences on content creators. 

How did they manage to do this? What other revenue streams are available for YouTubers in 2021?

Programmatic advertising

YouTube’s Partner Program – which pays YouTubers every time pre-roll and mid-roll ads are inserted into their videos – is a form of passive income, as YouTubers do not need to do anything else apart from post videos and apply for this program. 

YouTubers maximise their videos’ earning potential by inserting their own ads into their video. This way, they can set their rate without having to depend on YouTube’s partnership program. 

While brand collaboration and sponsorships existed pre-adpocalypse, the adpocalypse pushed YouTubers to find even more sponsors. These types of advertisements have experienced a dramatic increase in the last couple of years, as more and more YouTubers are realising that direct sponsorships are more lucrative than Youtube’s Partner Program. 

Brands are also keen to sponsor YouTubers with a following as audiences tend to trust YouTubers’ product and service recommendations more than traditional ads. 

Other social media platforms

While YouTubers still rely on YouTube for a significant amount of their income, most of them have opted for a multi-channel approach to multiply their revenue stream. 

Twitch’s popularity in the gamer community led to a lot of gamers – who previously relied solely on YouTube – to emigrate to Twitch, or at least add it to their list of platforms. Gamers stream themselves on Twitch and then use the recorded footage to create YouTube videos. 

Lifestyle influencers have flocked to Instagram and TikTok to expand their following and benefit from brand partnerships. By promoting products on their Instagram and TikTok channels, some YouTubers end up raking in thousands of dollars from these two platforms alone. 

Other YouTubers started podcasting. By filming themselves while podcasting, business savvy YouTubers manage to re-purpose the audio and the footage for different platforms.


YouTubers are great at selling exclusive content at a premium. 

Depending on their niche, online courses are a money-making machine. Through these courses, YouTubers can reach a large pool of people without having to physically travel to a classroom or a particular location. 

They can also pre-record their classes and re-use them at different points of their customer journey. Best of all, YouTubers don’t need millions of channel subscribers to kickstart this venture. By selling their courses at a premium, they only need a dozen people to recoup costs and make a profit.

Subscription platforms such as Patreon and OnlyFans enable YouTubers to rest assured that they have X amount of dollars coming in every month. When it comes to prepping subscriber-only content, consistency and quality are key. Subscribers are expecting regular content, so YouTubers who opt for this revenue stream need to make sure that they’re committed to producing content on the daily. 


Top YouTubers are making millions from merch. And it’s not just the occasional tee and tote – many of them are selling branded merch in top-tier stores. For example, in 2020, Ryan Kaji and his family made $250 million from licensed products. 

YouTubers operating in the beauty and lifestyle sphere are particularly successful at partnering up with “traditional” beauty brands and creating a branded line. Some of them end up starting their own beauty business. Jeffree Star is one such example. The beauty mogul founded Jeffree Star Cosmetics in 2014 and now makes up to $7.2 million per product launch.

Final notes

Nowadays, YouTubers have expanded beyond the confines of the platform to secure book deals, branded products, partnerships, and ultimately, empires.

Brands recognise that they need YouTubers to appeal to Millennials and Gen Z audiences, as for these young audiences, YouTubers are even more popular than traditional celebrities. 
YouTubers’ entrepreneurial spirit and creativity are finally being rewarded, as digital media is quickly taking over the traditional media sphere in shaping trends, opinions and tastes.


Janelle knows a thing or two about the music industry. Having been involved in the industry since the age of 13, she's now involved in a variety of music-related projects and is always keen to share industry tips 'n' tricks with fellow musicians.