Oct. 18, 2010 -- While the average person spends about 15 minutes a day on YouTube, thousands of people spend hours and hours producing and posting videos, hoping to cash in big when their work goes viral.
ABCNews.com spoke with three of the top YouTube earners to find out how they turned their pastime into profit. Two lessons: It requires hard work. And it helps to be funny.
"You need to continue to upload a great deal of content on a regular basis," Mediocre Films' Greg Benson told ABCNews.com. "The work is fun, but it is surprisingly hard work to continuously set up shoots and manage pre- and post-production on multiple projects each week."
In 2006 Greg Benson, 42, began posting his work on YouTube after his wife, Kim, suggested the idea. Benson owns a production company, Mediocre Films, and was looking for a way to share his comedic work.
Within a few weeks of his first upload, Benson noticed "Greg Hits Hollywood" was getting quite a bit of attention. The video features Benson posing as a reporter who repeatedly hits his interviewees with a microphone. YouTube caught wind of Benson's video and featured it on the website's homepage.
"I think it was picked because it's funny and different," said Benson. "Also, my viewers really like that my videos took 'balls' to shoot. Hitting people in the face with a microphone does take a little bit of courage!"
After the website featured two of his videos, Benson noticed more traffic to his YouTube page, about roughly two million views and 20,000 new subscribers.
"I honestly never imagined this type of success from YouTube," said Benson. "In fact, I initially didn't think my style of videos would do well there."
Top 100 Channels
By early 2007, Benson's YouTube page was one of the Top 100 subscribed channels, and he soon realized he could profit from producing YouTube videos.
"It was at that point that networks, studios and production companies began to call to request pitch meetings," said Benson. "It happened very quickly, and with the addition of product placements and branded videos, it became possible to pursue video production full time."
In addition to outside revenue, Benson also receives compensation from YouTube's partner program. Established in 2007, the program allows original YouTube content creators to evenly split advertising revenue with the site. Partners are not allowed to disclose their contracts with YouTube; however, a recent study from Tube Mogul estimated that Benson earned around $116,000 from advertising revenue in the past year.
Every minute, 24 hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube. That's 34,560 hours of new video a day. Clearly, the odds are against getting your video to stand out from the rest of the crowd.
"Forget about being successful," said Benson. "Only do it for the love of it. Create videos that you want to see and if success comes, consider it a bonus."
For Jodie Rivera, 26, one of YouTube's most successful female users, becoming an online sensation was more than she could have initially imagined.
"I didn't think anyone would watch them," said Rivera, one of the first users invited to YouTube's partner program. "I remember getting three views and being surprised."
Rivera, also known as Venetian Princess, found fame online through her music parodies of artists such as Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga. Now Rivera devotes herself to working fulltime making videos.
"You always have to top yourself," said the Brockton, Mass., native. "It has to be better than last time. I'm very hard on myself and I'm a perfectionist. That's really my main thing -- constantly challenging yourself, keeping your audience surprised and wondering what's next."
While there is a natural competition among them, Rivera credits her fellow online all-stars for helping out one another.
"YouTube is a community," Rivera explained. "Back then, I would get involved in other people's videos. A lot of people on [YouTube's] most subscribed list now got there from being in other people's videos."
Moving Beyond YouTube
With over 268 million views, Rivera has noticed that her online presence has created new opportunities to expand beyond the Web.
"Yes, the salary from the advertising revenue is amazing," said Rivera. "But it's also opening so many doors. So many people are going onto YouTube, looking for talent and looking for people for other projects. I do a lot of things that I would have never gotten noticed for if it weren't for YouTube."
Tips from YouTube Moguls
Rivera says she has earned roughly "the middle of six figures" in the past 10 months alone -- not only from YouTube, but also from promotions, royalties and appearances that have spun off her YouTube fame.
"I never thought I'd be buying a house," Rivera told ABCNews.com. "And I never thought I'd be leaving my parents' house. It just has worked to the point where I'm doing what I love to do and I'm my own boss."
Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, explained that a successful YouTube user needs to dedicate himself to YouTube if he or she plans on making a career online.
"You have to keep putting out product," Thompson told ABCNews.com. "Most of the people making money on YouTube are continuing to refresh their content. When people go online to look at what they've done, it's not like they have to wait six months for the next installment."
And The Hits Just Keep Coming
On a daily basis, people around the world are watching two billion videos on the popular site. Ryan Higa, 20, also known as Nigahiga, currently stands as the most subscribed user on YouTube with more than 2.7 million subscribers. Higa, originally from Hilo, Hawaii, became an online superstar with his "How to Be Ninja" and "How to Be Gangster" videos. Higa says he didn't plan on his success when he first began uploading videos online in 2006.
"I actually started making videos in 2004, before YouTube, using a VHS camcorder, but had to take the tape with a cassette to friends' homes so that they could see it," explained Higa. "Uploading the videos to YouTube was an easier way of sharing the videos with friends."
In order to keep producing quality content, Higa argues that viewer feedback is a critical factor.
"I don't really have a strategy [for getting more viewers]," said Higa. "I read the viewer comments and that helps me decide what my next video will be."
Higa, a film major at University of Nevada-Las Vegas, continues to produce videos with a total or more than 560 million views worldwide. He hopes that success will transfer over to the big screen.
"I'll continue to make videos as long as I have the time and people continue to watch my videos, but eventually I'd like to mainstream into TV or movies," Higa noted.
According to the same study by Tube Mogul, Higa ranked fourth in revenue from YouTube's partner program, bringing in an estimated $151,000.
While many YouTube sensations such as Justin Bieber have moved more mainstream, some say that they've found a home online.
"You have to find your niche, find what you are good at and find your audience," said Rivera. "It's an amazing place to garner an audience and an amazing place to find other venues. But I don't think I'll ever leave YouTube."