With more than 240 million YouTube views, Machelle Hobson stood to make a lot of money off the Fantastic Adventures series, a channel starring seven children living in her home.
Now, she’s been arrested and the popular YouTube channel appeared to be taken down as of Wednesday afternoon.
Hobson was arrested Friday on suspicion of repeatedly abusing the seven children, whom Maricopa police say Hobson had adopted, if they didn’t perform well in the videos. Officers initially identified Hobson by another last name.
The Department of Child Safety has removed the seven children from her custody.
In its title, the YouTube channel promised “Fantastic Adventures” and featured children acting out fantastical scenes, like a “super hero” battle posted in February 2018.
Just over 800,000 people subscribe to the channel, and many of the videos have more than 2 million views. One has more than 21 million views. Most are about 10 minutes long, and a new video was updated about once a week over the past year.
YouTube statistics calculator SocialBlade estimates Hobson’s channel made between $8,900 and $142,000 a month, and $106,800 to $1.7 million a year.
Behind the scenes, however, the children reported being locked in a closet for days without food, water or access to a bathroom, according to police. They told officers they were punished if they forgot lines when they appeared in the YouTube videos, and were sprayed in the face and genitals with pepper spray.
YouTube told The Republic that as soon as the organization heard of the arrest, it demonetized the channel.
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“We work closely with leading child safety organizations and others in our industry to protect young people. When we’re made aware of serious allegations of this nature we take action, which may include suspending monetization, or, upon conclusion of an investigation, terminating channels.”
But that means it’s very likely Hobson made money off the channel before the company flipped the monetization switch. Some popular channels can make millions off their content through ads and subscribers, making the website an alluring enterprise opportunity.
How do you make money off YouTube?
YouTube lists a few requirements for users to start making money.
The videos need 4,000 hours watched in the last 12-month period, channels should have more than 1,000 subscribers and YouTubers should follow all partner program policies, according to the organization’s support page.
The program policies include following YouTube’s community guidelines, which prohibit “content that endangers the emotional and physical well-being of minors.” Those guidelines encourage people to reach out to local law enforcement if they believe a child is in danger.
Ultimately, YouTube decides in a review process whether a channel makes the cut for monetization. The organization states in its policy that human reviewers are involved in making sure content follows all YouTube guidelines.
How much do YouTubers make?
It’s unclear exactly how much Hobson made from YouTube. SocialBlade’s range is broad, but estimates the channel earned at least six figures a year, if not more than $1 million.
Profits vary depending on advertisements, according to YouTube. Channel-owners can receive advertising revenue, monthly payments made by subscribers in exchange for membership perks, money from branded merchandise showcased on the channel, money paid by fans to get messages highlighted in chat areas, and subscription fees.
Some of the most popular YouTubers make millions off their content, according to Forbes. For instance, Jefree Starr is estimated to have earned $18 million in 2018 off his YouTube career.
Fantastic Adventures’ number of subscribers was just a fraction of Starr’s 13 million subscribed fans. But the channel’s membership, is still significant enough to bring in money.
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