OnlyFans giving celebrities new revenue stream, minus the hard-core content

The site saved "Sopranos" actress from losing her home during COVID-19.

Actress Drea de Matteo has specialized in playing sexy characters, most notably on “The Sopranos,” and these days she’s creating a whole new persona on OnlyFans, the internet content subscription service most notably associated with sexually explicit content.

But de Matteo, 52, isn’t doing porn. Instead, she’s joining a growing list of high-profile celebrities and other non-famous people taking their talents -- sans nudity -- to the exclusive, subscription-based platform to earn an income.

Celebrities have swiftly established their own accounts, some reaping millions of dollars in the process. They include TV personality Blac Chyna, who reportedly made $20 million from her page, comedian Whitney Cummings, actress Denise Richards, 1990’s sex symbol Carmen Electra, “Real Housewives” Sonja Morgan and Larsa Pippen, and even DJ Khaled.

PHOTO: Michael Imperioli and Drea de Matteo in  "The Sopranos."
Michael Imperioli and Drea de Matteo in "The Sopranos."
HBO via Getty Images

"I make my money doing basically cameos," de Matteo said in an interview with "Impact x Nightline." referencing OnlyFans’ direct messaging feature. "And they don't really ask me to do crazy things. Because they know it's me. You know, so I'm talking to their friends, 'can you make me a video for this person, for that person?' And then there's some guys that want some intense foot stuff."

De Matteo says she first started experiencing financial stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Hollywood and the rest of the world were shut down. When things started to pick back up, Matteo was out of work because she did not want to get vaccinated.

"For me, it was just, I don't even take Tylenol... I don't like to put anything in my body. So, I also just didn't know enough. I didn't know enough. My children didn't know enough. My kids are fully vaccinated," she said.

De Matteo was on the brink of losing her home. With her bank account dwindling, it was her teenage daughter's friend who suggested she explore OnlyFans.

"I signed up [for] that OnlyFans thing, and I thought, wow, I didn't think it was gonna work," de Matteo said. "But I didn't think anybody would care. I didn't think anybody would care. I'm, you know, Adriana from 'The Sopranos' from 100 years ago."

De Matteo told ABC News that she was three days away from foreclosure and that OnlyFans saved her from financial ruin. She mentioned that some months she makes more on OnlyFans than she made per episode on "The Sopranos." De Matteo, who won an Emmy Award for her portrayal of Adriana La Cerva on "The Sopranos," didn't disclose the total numbers but showed she had recently made $50,000 in tips from OnlyFans.

"I've never done full nudity," de Matteo said. "I have a clause in my contract. I don't do nudity, period. So I have never gone topless, or anything like that. You get pushed to the place that I was pushed to, you're going to want to know why you didn't take off your clothes sooner. But I'm also not doing anything that's groundbreaking here."

Like de Matteo, rapper Cardi B joined OnlyFans and made it clear she would not post any nudity. Numerous celebrities also have joined OnlyFans for the revenue opportunity and not the sexually explicit content.

OnlyFans launched in 2016 and quickly gained attention as a site popular for people showing sexually explicit content for money. Many creators used the app for some exclusive sexual content that they wouldn't be allowed to show on other social media apps like Instagram and YouTube. However, today, the platform has made a push to become more diverse, with other creators joining and providing different kinds of services.

For comedian Jiaoying Summers, she says OnlyFans called her during the pandemic after seeing her viral TikTok videos.

"They said, 'we want to bring other content creators to OnlyFans, like musicians, comedians, or fitness people,'" Summers said, 'so we would love to you to be on the platform.' I'm like, 'I don't do porn.' Like, if I am smart, I'll be doing porn, but I'm not, so they were like, 'No, no, no, no, lady, this is about you doing comedy.'"

Summers has been sharing comedy content on OnlyFans and says she has earned approximately $1,000,000 within just a few years. The single mother of two says the money she’s made on the platform has allowed her to pursue her dream career as a comedian.

Many people ask how OnlyFans creators can make so much money.

Emma Hinchliffe, senior writer at Fortune, said OnlyFans creators have various ways to earn revenue. One of the most common methods is subscriptions. Subscribers can pay $5, $15, or even $40 monthly to access the creators' content.

Hinchliffe said another way is by sending tips. Creators can also post locked content that fans can get access to by paying a fee for that specific video or image. Additionally, fans can directly message their favorite creators and make requests for personalized content, allowing for a more direct interaction.

It's the same model that launched subscription platforms Patreon and Cameo, allowing creators to control their content and keep more of their profits.

The OnlyFans logo is being displayed on a smartphone screen and on a computer screen.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

But unlike Patreon and Cameo, OnlyFans continues to be associated by some with sexually explicit content that often comes with a certain amount of judgment. "The thing about OnlyFans is it gets criticism from all sides," Hinchliffe said. "There are folks who think that only fans should not support explicit and sexual content, that that's dangerous, that that really puts people in harm's way. And then there are creators on the platform who think that OnlyFans is too puritanical and that it takes down too many of their videos, and it flags them for things that are not dangerous and don't matter."

"We're at an interesting crossroads in the entertainment world right now, where a lot of celebrities are learning without that intimate connection with their audience, their brand seems to be lacking," Molly McPherson, Crisis PR Management said. "Their relevance is lacking."

It is unclear whether engaging with OnlyFans negatively affects the reputation of celebrities, said McPherson. And while the site has its critics, de Matteo says she isn't bothered by the haters.

"I don't care what you think about me. I know who I am. My kids know who I am," she said.

De Matteo, recalling an emotional moment when her teenage daughter told her she was proud of her, said, “A lot of people have said to me, 'what do you think about the haters?' And I go, ‘I don't care. My kids are proud of me.’ That's all that matters.”