Ray William Johnson, owner of the most subscribed channel on YouTube, will end his relationship with Maker Studios, one of YouTube's largest partners, Johnson said on Wednesday.
Johnson (above) dropped the announcement at the beginning of the latest video for his "=3" series, which was filmed from his apartment and lacked the slick production of the Maker-produced videos.
"In the near future =3 will no longer be part of the Maker Studios network, so I'm going to film here for a while," Johnson said. "Even if I don't have the proper equipment at home, even if I have to film butt-ass naked in a back alley, you guys are going to get an episode, goddamnit!"
Johnson is still under contract with the network, but production of his channel has moved out of Maker's Culver City headquarters. Johnson also tweeted on Wednesday that his channel would leave the network, regardless of how long it takes.
"The transfer process for the =3 channel to leave the Maker network is beginning soon, but this process can take a while," Johnson wrote to Benny Luo, CEO of New Media Rockstars.
Johnson's announcement has sparked a back and forth between Maker and its most prominent partner, with Maker denying that Johnson has left.
A spokeswoman for the company said in a statement to TheWrap: "Ray is still a part of the Maker Network, however with the recent decline in viewership on =3 it made sense for him to go back to producing the show himself. Maker providing a full production staff of 12 people including a team of writers no longer was a viable option for =3. Maker fully supports Ray's decision to go back to producing the show on his own for the time being and we wish him continued success. We will continue to support Ray through this transition."
Regular viewership for his channel has declined, but Johnson rejected the notion that viewership was why Maker would no longer produce his videos. He tweeted at Benny Luo, CEO of NewMediaRockstars, to tell him that Maker asked for a stake in Johnson's channel, which has close to 6 million subscribers and more than 2 billion views. Johnson expressed no interest in giving up any ownership and claims Maker then halted production.
Though he films "reaction videos," which respond to other viral videos on the web, Johnson has been targeted as one of the YouTube stars with crossover potential. Already managed by 3Arts, Johnson signed with WME in June.
WME referred questions on the matter to 3Arts, which was not immediately available for comment.
This public dispute foretells a series of disagreements between YouTube creators and the networks they join. Those looking to make YouTube content creation a profession typically sign with a network, which sells advertising for them and handles marketing and distribution when necessary.
However, the fiduciary relationships between networks and creators vary, and are subject to change as one's popularity rises and falls.
Creators as popular as Johnson tend to maintain ownership of their channels, and revenue splits often depend on whether the channel existed before joining the network.
Maker has sought to better monetize its network and open up new revenues streams by developing its own merchandising company and expanding its advertising sales team.
Its network of more than 5,000 channels will still draw upwards of 130 million unique views a month, but Johnson holds the biggest of the channels, with more subscribers than Justin Bieber and Rihanna put together.
That such discord would break out with Maker is jarring because it presents itself as the most artist-friendly YouTube-driven production company, founded by popular YouTubers like Lisa Nova (ne Lisa Donovan) and KassemG (ne Gharaibeh). That being said, YouTubers like the Fine Bros. and Shane Dawson have also left the company in the past.
Here's the video: