Disney and its subsidiary Maker Studios have dropped Swedish YouTube star Felix Kjellberg, AKA PewDiePie, from its roster one month after the gamer posted a video showing two men laughing as they held up a sign reading: “Death to all Jews.”
In a video from January 11, since removed, Kjellberg filmed his shocked reaction as the two men unfurled the sign, which he had paid them to do. The following week, Kjellberg posted an apology, repeating the hateful rhetoric and criticizing the media for not understanding that he was joking. In a January 22 video, also since removed, he reacts to a video of a Jesus character saying a popular alt-right trolling phrase, “Hitler did nothing wrong.” The Wall Street Journal has segments of the videos.
Maker Studios released the following statement yesterday: “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. Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward.”
Following the announcement by maker Studios, Google-owned YouTube canceled plans for a second season of the reality series “Scare PewDiePie.” It has also removed Kjellberg’s PewDiePie channel from Google Preferred, its premium advertising tier, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Since 2014, PewDiePie has been the most-viewed YouTube channel of all time. An early gaming channel, his 53 million subscribers tune in for his funny voices and provocative humor. Early in his career, he was criticized for making rape jokes in his videos. He signed with Maker Studios in 2012, one of the largest multi-channel networks, or MCNs. (An MCN manages channels for digital content creators in exchange for a share of the revenue.) The Walt Disney Company bought Maker Studios in 2014 for $500 million.
Kjellberg released a statement on Tumblr defending his recent actions: “I was trying to show how crazy the modern world is, specifically some of the services available online. I think it’s important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes.”
With such a robust following, it’s difficult to predict how the separation will affect Kjellberg’s popularity or revenue stream. YouTubers make money through advertising and brand partnerships, which an MCN like Maker would help facilitate. However, PewDiePie will still be able to run his YouTube channel, he just lost his preferred status and his original show, as well as the contract with Maker Studios.
At a time when hate speech is seeping into media from the highest reaches of government, Disney’s decision to sever ties with such a mega-star speaks volumes. So does the fact that it took them a month to do it.
February 14, 11:19 am: Updated to include YouTube’s decision to cut ties with Kjellberg.