What would you do if you had one year left to live? What would you leave behind in memory?
These are the questions that Mark Fischbach (Markiplier) and Ethan Nestor-Darling (CrankGameplays) asked their viewers when they created the channel, Unus Annus. The idea was simple: every day they would post a new video. Then after a year, they would delete the entire channel.
Nothing would remain but memories.
Unus Annus is one of the most interesting content creation experiments I’ve ever seen. And though the channel had a funeral almost two years ago, we can still perform an autopsy today.
What was Unus Annus?
On the death certificate of Unus Annus, you will see that it was a YouTube channel born on November 13, 2019. Its death date was only a year later – November 14, 2020.
Cause of death: premeditated digital deletion.
Unus Annus existed for one purpose: to give its viewers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Something that everyone who watched it will remember, something to look back fondly upon in reminiscence. It’s even in the name itself, which is Latin for “one year.”
Mark and Ethan, as the parents of the channel, gave life to it with daily video uploads. From the very first day, they made their goal clear: delete the channel after exactly a year. No remorse, no anger, but perhaps some sadness, and definitely satisfaction with what they have done.
Thanks to their existing followings, especially Mark’s massive audience, the show started with a healthy and happy 4.7 million views in the first two weeks of its life. In its last week of existence, the channel had over 31 million. How could a channel destined for doom octuple its followership in just one year?
Within that time frame, Unus Annus made an estimated $4-5 million in earnings from ad revenue alone, and that’s not including the merchandise being sold at the time. Can you imagine deleting a channel that was making you millions per year? I couldn’t do it, but these guys had balls and a mission.
Unus Annus, a show about Everything All of The Time
If you’ve ever heard the Bo Burnham song, “Welcome to the Internet,” then you’re familiar with the phrase and meaning behind “everything all of the time.” When you get really into internet culture, it’s chaotic and disjointed. It’s baked into the nature of the medium itself.
Mark and Ethan leaned into this. They made whatever content they wanted to because they knew the channel was going to be deleted. They didn’t have to care about the YouTube algorithm, and that meant they could ignore the threat of demonetization. The fact that Unus Annus was time-limited meant they were free to make whatever they wanted, without fear.
And so what did they do? Make some really weird shit.
What kind of weird shit, you may ask? These two mad men did something different every day that they hadn’t done before. That meant they were experiencing everything for the first time, just like you. In doing so, it created a lot of laughs. (And it didn’t hurt that Ethan is one of the most giggly people in existence.)
On day one, they made their point by dropping the episode “Cooking with Sex Toys.” Yes, it was exactly what it sounds like. Straight out of the gate, they set the tone that Unus Annus would be bizarre. But this is also important because the YouTube algorithm hates sexual content. Videos that feature it get demonetized pretty fast, so this was not just a funny joke episode – it was a way to make their intent very clear from the start.
Because Unus Annus was built to die, they could ignore the YouTube algorithm
Ultimately, it didn’t matter that the videos were working against YouTube’s algorithm. Both guys brought huge followings to Unus Annus, with Crank Gaming’s audience being about 1 million strong and with Markiplier’s being an absurd 24 million. It’s no surprise that the channel saw subscribers and viewers early on.
There was no rhyme or reason to the content, but that was the point. The next two episodes were “Purging our Sins With a Neti Pot” and “Hot Dog’d to Death.” They just decided what they wanted to do and did it. And somehow, however improbably, it worked brilliantly.
The duo managed to upload 132 episodes before the COVID-19 pandemic escalated to the point where they would have to change course. Being based in California, both creators went into a strict lockdown and filmed the next 86 episodes online from their isolation bunkers.
Obviously, this threw a wrench into their plans, but they still managed to find things to do, including an internet scavenger hunt and trying to name all American states. And, of course, there was the classic episode “Eating Only Onions for 24 Hours, How Many Onions Does it Take to Kill a Man.”
Unus Annus was full of watchable, bizarre content even as the pandemic crescendoed into the disaster we remember it being. They stayed committed to the one-year time limit, even though the pandemic gave them a perfectly valid excuse to extend the show.
It wasn’t all about doing stupid things on the internet for a laugh, though. They raised money to support charity and to help people who were suffering from COVID back when we knew so little about the illness. Not bad for a show with episodes with titles like “Cooking with Sex Toys” and “Piss Sauna.”
Unus Annus succeeded because it leaned into FOMO
On day one, the viewers couldn’t understand why on earth anyone would intentionally put in a year’s effort of work only to delete it. But now, in retrospect, the decision to delete the show was more important than anything they did. That’s because it created the fear of missing out – FOMO – by subtly reminding viewers that time was ticking. They even borrowed the old Stoic axiom “Memento Mori”, or “remember that you will die”, and used it throughout the show.
As Mark said, “it’ll make sense when it ends.” Ultimately, it did, and this was because they constantly improved their content each and every day, which further enhanced the FOMO and instilled dread into viewers by causing them to think of the day the show would not exist anymore. Viewers came to realize over time that they would eventually grieve the show’s absence.
We’re used to thinking of FOMO as an emotion to be manipulated for evil. But that’s not always the case. A lot of what makes concerts and theatrical productions amazing is that they happen and then they end. Sure, you can catch the bootleg videos on YouTube later, but it’s not the same as being there. When FOMO is harnessed for good, it forces you to really pay attention and enjoy what’s in front of you.
Mark and Ethan managed to pull this off because they’re natural comedians who bounced off each other flawlessly. They embraced the cursed, the weird, and the wholesome together. Freed from the chains of the algorithm, their work felt natural and unconstrained which you just don’t see much these days on YouTube with the big channels.
Unus Annus might have been the first YouTube channel to have a funeral
They concluded their epic year with a goodbye livestream. On it, they counted down the minutes and seconds to the show’s death. It would end with Mark’s finger on the mouse, clicking the “Delete my content” button.
This funeral was heartfelt and sincere in a way that was rare on YouTube.
Whether the fans saw it that way or not, they were participants in a social experiment. This bizarre concept paid off, with their final livestream having over one million viewers, all saying their goodbyes. As the YouTube channel went dark, the fans were too left in the dark.
Afterward, Mark and Ethan uploaded a heartfelt video describing how they felt and what the purpose of the channel was. Mark felt fantastic about creating Unus Annus and Ethan couldn’t quite describe how he was feeling. But they should both feel proud of what they’ve done.
The legacy of Unus Annus remains in our memories
Mark stated that they wanted to leave a legacy behind, and he takes this very seriously. The videos themselves were never the point. The deletion was.
He’s since made sure that he would file a takedown request against anyone re-uploading it to YouTube. This is different than a copyright claim, which is a slap on the wrist. Takedown requests will delete your entire channel and everything on it.
The experience of Unus Annus was key. He doesn’t have a problem with compilations, and you can find them on YouTube. Still photos are fine too, as are even small excerpts like what we’ve used in this article. But you won’t find full episodes on YouTube.
Are there full episodes somewhere on the internet? Certainly. Nothing can ever truly be destroyed on the internet, but Mark and Ethan can do everything in their power to make it hard to find.
Out of respect for their work, I won’t share those links. But the existence of bootlegs, and even unauthorized merch stores, proves that people loved what they made so much that they’re preserving it despite the penalty for doing so. (Though this does miss the point of the channel).
How Unus Annus paid off for Mark (Markiplier) and Ethan (CrankGameplays)
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way – Mark had the majority of subscribers pouring into Unus Annus. Because Mark’s audience was so huge, Unus Annus got a huge headstart. It makes perfect sense because Mark had 24 million subscribers compared to Ethan, who started with about three-quarters of a million. Mark benefited from the money and a little more exposure, sure, but he mostly benefited from being able to do what he wanted to do and build a legacy he was proud of.
So let’s focus on Ethan. He started with about 777,000 subscribers and then gained about a million by the end of the show. His audience more than doubled in the span of a year, and he had been on YouTube since 2015. It was an unmitigated win for him, as he captured about a quarter of the Unus Annus audience.
To be honest, I would have hoped that Ethan would gain more subscribers during the show’s run. I thought he was hilarious, and I think you should really go check him out and subscribe. Still, gaining a quarter of a 4 million subscriber audience is no small benefit!
Perhaps inspired by the success of the show, Mark has gone on to a narrative-driven YouTube adventure of his own, called Markiplier in Space. It’s ambitious and fun, and well worth a watch. He’s now interning at Corridor Digital, because he’s really committed to doing what he can to improve his own content.
Unus Annus took the absurdity of creating content internet and turned it into a life lesson and a social experiment. Mark and Ethan committed to living like they had one year left, and they did just about anything you can imagine in that time. Every day, the show brought its viewers something else to laugh or cringe at.
But at the same time, underneath the silliness, there was a looming dread. There was a constant fear of the channel’s deletion, and by extension, our own mortality.
I don’t think there has ever been another YouTube channel that caused people to grieve over its loss. I don’t know if we’ll ever see it again. But perhaps that’s the point.
What can you do to give someone a unique experience today? What kind of legacy do you wish to leave behind?