How Much Is a Billion YouTube Streams Worth?

Exactly one decade ago, on Dec. 21, 2012, Psy’s “Gangnam Style” made history as the first music video to reach 1 billion YouTube views. As a result, YouTube’s Billion Views Club was born. A way to celebrate official videos that have achieved peak virality, the club is now home to over 300 music videos, including many of the most iconic hits from the past 10 years — from Adele’s “Hello” to Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” featuring Daddy Yankee.

But how much do artists get paid for crossing the billion-view threshold for a music video on YouTube? The royalties are dependent on a few factors. Label affiliation, location and type of view affect these rates significantly. For example, artists signed to major labels — which represent the vast majority of members of the Billion Views Club — earn higher rates on the platform than those who are unsigned or affiliated with an indie label.

But location is possibly the biggest determining factor of all: In the United States, rates are generally higher than in other countries. So while an official YouTube music video for a major-label artist could generate a blended average of $0.0038 per stream in the United States, globally — which is how YouTube counts its views — Billboard estimates that rate at $0.0026 per stream. YouTube Premium video streams (views from customers who subscribe to YouTube’s ad-free video-watching tier) are also higher than plays from users on the ad-supported tier, both in the United States and globally.


Consequently, for major-label artists, 1 billion video streams on an official music video would generate about $2.6 million globally. That’s, of course, before the label takes their cut of royalties, which varies widely based on each artist’s individual deal, and before the artist takes into account what, if anything, they owe to their featured artists or producers on the track.

For non-official videos that use music — like a user-generated video of someone’s visit to the zoo, set to a song by a major-label artist — that global blended stream estimate would drop down to $0.0021, given lower payouts on UGC videos and the over-indexing of UGC viewership vs. that of official videos. So for a major-label song on YouTube that generates 1 billion views across all videos that use it, the label and artist would generate closer to $2.1 million.

Of the more than 300 music videos on YouTube to hit 1 billion views, the fastest to reach the benchmark is “Hello” by Adele, which took just 88 days from release to amass such a viewership. Next is a tie between “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran and “Despacito,” both of which took 97 days. The third and fourth places on the list are also both held by Spanish-language songs, with “Mi Gente” by J Balvin and Willy William earning the title in 103 days and “Échame La Culpa” by Luis Fonsi and Demi Lovato taking 111 days.

Additional Reporting by Ed Christman.

Kristin Robinson