Jonathan, Anna, baby Emilia, six dogs and 70 million viewers
You might never have heard of them, but the money-spinning YouTube vlog of a Cork-based couple is an internet sensation. John Hearne reports
Ireland's encounter with the All-Blacks last November was RTÉ's biggest hit that month. An average audience of 519,900 sat down to witness the team's ultimate loss to the New Zealanders.
Impressive numbers, but not quite as good as the Saccone-Jolys.
Anna Saccone and Jonathan Joly are Ireland's most successful video bloggers, or vloggers. That same month, more than 577,000 people tuned in to their YouTube channel to learn the sex of their second baby, due any day now.
When Anna went into labour with their first daughter a year earlier, almost 1.2 million people watched the birth at Cork University Hospital. Now, with Anna about to have their second child (a boy), the couple are gearing up for even bigger numbers.
Every day for the past four years, they have uploaded a 20-minute slice of their lives to the internet, and in so doing have collected a huge global following. Just this week, total views on their channel topped 70 million.
Jonathan Joly still can't quite believe the success of the show. "Last January we were doing 30,000 a day. Now it's 140,000. When you look at the numbers – 10 million views a month – it's like, what the hell? How did that happen? There's 120,000 people in Cork and we get an average of 140,000 views per video. Woah!"
Future star: Jonathan with Anna during her pregnancy
Joly started the vlogging as a kind of recession-busting experiment back in 2010. The Dubliner had just returned from college in the UK to an Ireland that offered few opportunities. With time on his hands, he decided to try something on YouTube.
"The first 50 videos I did were parodies and just funny videos," he says. " I was just trying to see, did people interact with it. Then after about six months, I decided to start filming my life every single day. After a week, almost a 1,000 were watching."
In the months that followed, the numbers grew steadily, and by the time Jonathan decided to ask his girlfriend Anna – a successful vlogger in her own right – to marry him, nearly 328,000 tuned in to watch the rose petal and candle extravaganza he devised.
Jonathan and Anna’s Italian wedding in 2011
The real turning point came some time before that, however, when their rising viewer numbers prompted YouTube to offer them a partnership deal. This is the dream for every YouTuber, the point at which you get a slice of the advertising revenue.
Within a year of starting the channel, the couple were in a position to pack in their day jobs and vlog on a full-time basis. Joly is coy about saying how much they're making but, as fans of the channel will know, he drives a Porsche. His wife favours a Merc.
Each video draws hundreds – sometimes thousands – of responses from the coterie of fans. Subscribers from around the world pick over the minutiae of each upload, delighting in the antics of the family's six, small dogs. Baby Emilia is invariably the centre of attention.
Joly – who wrote his thesis on creating an emotional connection through media – reckons that it's the simple human story that has fuelled the show's popularity.
Anna and Baby Amelia
"When we started, we were just boyfriend/girlfriend graduating from college, making a go of it, getting married, having a baby. Now we're having another baby. Our audience, who knew us years ago, has seen the evolution."
There is a downside to living in a fishbowl, however, even if it is one of your own design. Joly admits to feeling vulnerable from time to time, and with good reason. Recently, the couple have had to go to the gardai twice. The first time after receiving threatening letters, and then again after Saccone's car was maliciously damaged.
"Anna had just bought a Mercedes and it was parked outside and someone came up and keyed it from top to the bottom – it cost €2,000 to fix. They left a note saying everyone in Ireland hates you, you're a disgrace to the nation. There are groups out there who are trying their hardest to take us down."
Life in the spotlight: baby Emelia
Joly has installed 16 CCTV cameras around the outside of the house and has hired a security company to monitor the property full time.
He's adamant, however, that these incidents have nothing to do with the family's decision to up sticks and move to the UK. From next month on, the Saccone Jolys will be uploading from their new home in London. "It's just grown so much," says Joly. "We are the biggest fish in this tiny little pond here, so we thought, why don't we go to a bigger pond? Maybe we could climb to the top again?"
Joly is slightly unnerved by fame, by the fact that they're recognised everywhere they go. It's made him more protective of his family.
"I want Emilia to go to school and I'm not sure I can put her to school in a small town like Cork," he says. "I want her to have the anonymity of childhood."
But if the move succeeds and the views keep rising, anonymity's going to be a scarce commodity.
Jonathan and one of the couple's dogs
So what is vlogging ... and will it make me rich?
It sounds like a viral scam but the truth, however, is that there are thousands of vloggers out there who make a very comfortable living by videoing themselves and sticking the results up on the internet.
Content varies as widely as you'd expect. Straight-up video diaries are common, as are comedy, music and fitness. Beauty and style vlogs have taken off massively in the last two years and top vloggers have become hugely influential.
In the UK, the most popular style and make-up YouTubers can charge anything up to £4,000 to mention a particular product, while companies pay around £20,000 for banner ads on their pages.
Despite the success of the Saccone-Jolys, their figures are nowhere near as good as those of Chris O'Neil.
He's the 23-year-old Wexfordman behind Oney's Video Hole. Though not, strictly speaking, a vlogger, his animations have generated impressive numbers. He's got 1.2 million subscribers and his cartoons have been viewed over a quarter of a billion times.
How much you can earn depends on the marketability of your content and of course the all-important number of views. YouTube says that it has more than a million 'creators' in over 30 countries, while thousands of channels are making more than six figures a year.
Nice work if you can get it.