Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg has spent years as the biggest YouTuber on the video platform, so now that an Indian music channel called T-Series threatens to take the throne, the world is paying close attention to the man’s subscriber count. While T-Series’ YouTube dominance is likely just a matter of time, Kjellberg’s fans have gone into overdrive to make the overthrow take as long as possible. The fight has spilled out into the real world, thanks to a number of grassroots campaigns to raise awareness of Kjellberg’s channel.
The most high-profile advertising campaign for Kjellberg’s channel happened late last month, when YouTuber Mr. Beast transformed his entire city into a PewDiePie ad. The YouTuber, who regularly gives away huge swaths of money to his subscribers, bought billboards, local television spots, radio sound bites, and more, all urging people to subscribe to Kjellberg. It worked: the PewDiePie channel started seeing a huge boost, eventually allowing the Swedish content creator to be the first person to reach 69 million subscribers.
It’s hard to tell how much of that growth came from parties who saw the ads in real life, and how much was, say, from people who saw the video of the stunt on YouTube, and were amused enough to subscribe to Kjellberg. Whatever the case, Mr. Beast’s video as of this writing has 11 million views, and has set off a chain reaction among other fans, who are competing to publicly promote him. Meanwhile, Kjellberg often uses his videos to urge fans to raise awareness of his channel so he can remain ahead of T-Series’ subscriber count.
Since then, Kjellberg has continued to highlight and praise fans who are lobbying for his cause. In a video uploaded earlier this month, he showed footage of people who bought newspaper ads and posted fliers that asked bystanders to subscribe to him:
Kjellberg has also featured fans in his videos who tell strangers online to subscribe to his channel. That phenomenon is apparently becoming common enough to draw responses from YouTube users who claim multiple people have approached them recently, asking them to subscribe to him. The campaign has also gone international:
Meanwhile in Bangladesh #pewdiepie #pewdiepievstseries pic.twitter.com/qDLPxRHY1q
— sumaiya (@sumzzam1) November 4, 2018
The push has even spread to India, where YouTuber Saiman Says also purchased billboards around Mumbai to help Kjellberg. “For the sake of YouTube, please subscribe to PewDiePie, because if you subscribe to PewDiePie, you are saving YouTube,” Saiman pleads to random strangers.
That framing — “let’s do our part to save YouTube” — is at the heart of this feud between the PewDiePie and T-series channels. For some fans, it feels important to maintain an independent creator’s channel as the “face” of YouTube, because the platform is supposed to be a self-made community. Although T-Series is ostensibly buoyed by the support of the general public, it represents corporate interests on YouTube. Some YouTube diehards feel that a company shouldn’t be able to reach number-one subscriber status by uploading footage made by other people, and by weaponizing huge budgets and marketing teams. In their view, that represents a loss of what YouTube is supposed to be about.
Their relentless campaigning helps explain why Kjellberg’s channel has picked up more than 3 million new subscribers in the span of a single month. It’s not a race between two channels, it’s a John Henry-style fight for YouTube’s soul.
Right now, both T-Series and Kjellberg have around 70 million subscribers, though the production company continues to close the gap.