YouTube star loses Disney deal over anti-Semitic stunt
New York — Disney’s Maker Studios and Google’s YouTube are distancing themselves from a top YouTube star after he made jokes construed as anti-Semitic and posted Nazi imagery in his videos.
Felix Kjellberg, known online as PewDiePie, has the most popular YouTube channel, with more than 53 million subscribers. The Swedish YouTube star rose to fame by posting videos of him playing and commenting about video games. More recently, he branched out into non-gaming videos that show him performing skits, stunts or making jokes.
Disney, whose Maker Studios runs Kjellberg’s channels and network, said he crossed the line with some of his videos. One video from January shows two Indian men paid by Kjellberg to hold up a sign that says “Death to all Jews.” Kjellberg said the video was meant to demonstrate how far people will go if they get paid to do something, but he didn’t think they would actually do it. Other videos show Nazi imagery in a satirical way.
In blog post Kjellberg said he was making jokes, but realizes now that they were offensive.
Kjellberg’s channel was already part of Maker Studios when the Walt Disney Co. bought Maker in 2014 for $675 million. Maker contracts with individuals such as Kjellberg to produce videos for various YouTube channels.
Kjellberg pulled the video showing the two men displaying the anti-Semitic sign, but it is excerpted in a Wall Street Journal video. Other videos still on the site show Nazi imagery being used satirically.
Maker Studios said in a statement that while Kjellberg’s channel is popular because he is irreverent and provocative, the studio is ending its affiliation with him because he went too far.
YouTube spokeswoman Michelle Slavich said YouTube has canceled the release of the second season of Kjellberg’s reality show “Scare PewDiePie” and removed the PewDiePie channel from its Google Preferred advertising program, which aggregates top YouTube content for advertisers to buy time on.