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Growing up in Maine with a family of nine and a father who was in the Navy, Paul Kousky, 24, thought he would pursue a career in the military — not YouTube.

In middle school, Kousky made videos on iMovie for class and was always playing with Nerf guns in his basement with his siblings, he said. Then about 10 years ago, he posted his first video on YouTube. 

“We made these videos around the house, in the woods,” Kousky told Business Insider. “I couldn’t have done this without my siblings growing up. They were more than happy to be in the videos and participate.”

Kousky runs the YouTube channel PDK Films, which now has 10 million subscribers. He said he originally never planned to focus on YouTube as a career. But despite uploading videos only every four months when he was home while he was in college, his channel continued to grow.

“I was probably pulling in $100,000 a year,” he said. “I decided to drop out of college and do this full time in 2015.”

Kousky said he earns a majority of his YouTube revenue from Google’s AdSense program, which places ads on creators’ YouTube videos. 

In February 2018, Kousky uploaded a YouTube video to his channel titled “Nerf War: Tank Battle,” which went viral six months later, worldwide. Today, the video has 150 million views.

Kousky earned $97,000 in AdSense from the video, the most he’s made from a single video, according to a screenshot viewed by Business Insider.

“Some people think that’s low; some people think it’s high,” he said. “For me, that’s just what I’m used to on my channel. Some people get a couple million views and pull in $100,000 in AdSense off that.”

How much money a video on YouTube earns depends on a number of factors, from the place in the video where viewers normally drop off to the type of advertisers the video gets.

Paul Kousky

Paul Kousky

Audience demographic is key for earning the most money on YouTube

“The video is pretty simple,” Kousky said. “I start off playing the tank game, and then all of a sudden, there’s these cut scenes with tanks driving out, and they start attacking me. My Nerf guns don’t work against these tanks, so I throw pineapples and random things at them, so there’s some humor.”

The video is just over 10 minutes long, a trick he learned in 2016 after YouTube made some changes to the algorithm, and he noticed the revenue on his channel began to decline for shorter videos. 

By looking at his YouTube creator studio, Kousky is able to see metrics provided by YouTube, like how long viewers watched the video on average and where they clicked off. He said the audience retention on the video fluctuated over time and retention would generally decrease over time as the video gets more views.

On average, the view duration for this video was around four to five minutes. That put the video at about a 45% average watch time, which is considered high for YouTube. This is an important metric because a high view duration lets YouTube’s automated algorithm know that a video is performing well, and that can help a video get picked up and recommended to viewers.

The subject also helped the video spread. 

“What I’ve seen with my videos is the ones that go viral are global hits,” he said. “Because everyone knows what a Nerf gun is.”

When Kousky first uploaded the video, he said it had about 50% US viewers, which is his target demographic. After it went viral, the US audience dropped and is now only about 5%.

Since his video went viral worldwide, it pulled in views from countries with a lower CPM rate (or cost per 1,000 views). If a majority of his viewers had been from the US, then he would have earned more money, he said. Viewer demographic is a key factor for YouTube in determining the CPM rate for videos.

Paul Kousky

Paul Kousky

Like a movie title or book cover, a YouTube thumbnail image is important for luring in viewers

The video was never picked up by YouTube’s automated algorithm for the trending page, he said. 

But still, 90% of his channel’s traffic comes from the “suggested videos” section on YouTube, which appears on the side as a user is watching a video. 

Kousky can see which types of videos the suggested traffic is coming from, and sometimes it will be from top channels, like Dude Perfect, he said. 

Just like a movie title or book cover, a YouTube thumbnail image is the first point of contact a viewer will have with a video. YouTube’s creator studio shows the percentage of viewers who saw the thumbnail and clicked on the video. This video had a high average click-through rate, he said, and he believed that was because of the emotion is his face and the unique “Nerf tank toy” (which he said had been discontinued). 

“Part of the reason why people click on a video is because they see it has so many views,” he added. “People are drawn to click on things that are popular, like the bandwagon effect.” 

Kousky works from home and said he didn’t have an agent or manager. He does his taxes and finances himself, which he said has helped him learn a lot about business, and besides AdSense, he also earns revenue by working with brands on sponsorships.

For more on how to become a successful influencer, according to YouTube and Instagram stars, check out these Business Insider Prime posts:


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