Noah Brier | March 28, 2024

The MrBeast Edition

On trial and error, YouTube, and game shows.

Noah here. Like nearly 250 million other people, I subscribe to MrBeast on YouTube. My kids regularly ask if there’s a new MrBeast, and we have easily watched 100 videos across his multiple channels together. While I’m certainly not an expert in the creator economy, I do really like YouTube.

If you’ve never watched a MrBeast video, they are normally in the 15-20 minute range with budgets that regularly exceed $1 million. Here are the main channel's last five uploads:

  1. Stop This Train, Win a Lamborghini: a guy is given increasingly difficult challenges to win a new Lamborghini

  2. I Survived 7 Days In An Abandoned City: MrBeast (aka Jimmy Donaldson) and his crew (along with other uber-popular YouTube Mark Rober) are dropped in an abandoned beach town in Croatia. Hilarity ensues.

  3. Face Your Biggest Fear To Win $800,000: Pretty much what the title says.

  4. $1 vs $250,000,000 Private Island!: A sampling of the fares available on islands of increasing value. 

  5. Protect $500,000 Keep It!: A lot like the Lamborghini challenge, but with cash.

If you scroll all the way back in the MrBeast archives, you’ll find videos like the one where MrBeast counts to 100,000. The video is 23 hours long, with a disclaimer at the beginning that it was actually 40, but Adobe has a max length, so they had to speed up a few parts. In some ways, these old videos feel very internet native: a dude sits in his room counting out loud. What could be more YouTube than that? 

That counting video is the one that made the channel take off, though it was a long road leading up to it. “This wasn’t even my first YouTube channel and I also deleted lots of old videos,” he Tweeted in 2019. “I did YouTube for 6 years straight and wasn’t making enough to do it full time. Went to college for 2 weeks and then dropped out and told my mom I’d rather be poor then do anything beside YouTube.” 

Why is this interesting?

As I’ve gotten to know MrBeast’s catalog, especially his newer stuff, I’ve been struck by this thought that one way to view it is as a speed running of the history of television. The self-told lore of MrBeast is that his single obsession is YouTube. What’s amusing is that as he’s gotten better at it, with both experience and money to spend on production, his videos feel more and more like the stuff on TV. 

Specifically, MrBeast makes game shows. Look back at those latest videos and see Fear Factor, Survivor, and the like. But my impression—almost entirely based on my own assumptions—isn’t that the genre specifically inspires him but that he’s landed there through trial and error. As he’s tried to optimize for virality and YouTube’s algorithm, he seems to have landed on almost exactly the same equation as the world’s largest television producers. This isn’t hugely surprising—those TV producers do it for a reason—but it’s fascinating that for all the talk about how each medium is unique, it really does feel like once you hit a certain scale, they all start converging again.

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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