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Bodybuilding media has evolved well beyond the DIY fanzines that the industry was built on. And while there’s no shortage of outlets covering the sport now, it’s not all about the typical mags and websites that dominated the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s. A new generation of commentators has popped up across YouTube and social media to give fans minute-to-minute updates on the latest news, rumors, and event coverage. Though many of these names began making videos merely as a hobby, a select few have been able to break through and successfully tap into the culture, becoming legitimate names in the industry and creating a full-blown career along the way. And leading the way is 26-year-old Nick Miller, creator of the YouTube channel Nick’s Strength and Power.
Currently sitting at over 740,000 subscribers and 300+ million overall views, Miller’s YouTube is now one of the most widely consumed outlets in bodybuilding media, with new videos typically racking up more than 100,000 views within hours of their debut.
We caught up with Miller to talk about the origins of his channel, the industry’s reaction to his videos, and the mistakes he’s learned from along the way.
M&F: How did the idea for the channel come about? And how big a part of your life is it now?
Nick Miller: Initially, I started my channel in 2012 with the goal of just filming my workouts and progress in the gym. It was more of a place for me to archive my progress and get feedback from other people. But I’ve been following bodybuilding and going to shows since 2009, so every once in awhile I would upload videos talking about big shows that I went to, specifically the Arnold Classic in Ohio. I noticed pretty quickly that those contest coverage videos got way more views than the rest of my videos. So eventually, I began to focus more heavily on creating videos about bodybuilding rather than about myself.
The channel has become a massive part of my life. As far as income goes it’s been my full-time job and main source of income for 2017, 2018, and now 2019. YouTube revenue alone for my channel (not including sponsorships and promotional content) is in the six figures. [From] 2012-2016 (the beginning), I made almost nothing from it. Maybe like $100 bucks a year, or something like that. It started out entirely as a hobby with no expectation of ever making an actual income from it. I graduated college with my bachelor’s degree in health science in the spring of 2017, and by that point I was already making much more than I would’ve made in any entry-level job in that field, so I decided to pursue YouTube full-time.
At what point did you realize that your videos were really taking off?
In the beginning, the major focus of my channel became bodybuilding history. The primary inspiration for that was my dad. My dad had given me tons of old-school bodybuilding books, magazines, and even some videos and really got me heavily interested in the history of the sport. So when I realized there was a high demand for bodybuilding videos, I wanted to tell stories about bodybuilding history. So the majority of my early content revolved around me narrating stories about old-school bodybuilders and bodybuilding contests. (Also, lots of commenters had mentioned they enjoyed my videos because of my voice).
The first massive growth I experienced on my channel was when I had my first “viral video.” The video was called “What Happened to Scott Steiner’s Chest?” and it got around 5 million views. That month my channel almost doubled in size with a gain of almost 50,000 subscribers. That’s when I realized that a large key to growth is not only consistent uploads, but having intermittent “viral” subjects that will spike views and subscribers. At the time I’m writing this, my total collective number of views on my channel is approaching 300 million views at 725,000+ subscribers. The first time I realized that my channel was really becoming something was the 2016 Arnold Classic Expo where people were coming up to me and asking for photos.
I’m constantly changing and adapting my content to what I feel the viewers want to see. I evolved from bodybuilding history, to heavy contest coverage, to now a mix of daily news and current events videos and contest coverage. I’ve found that current events is really the most sustainable form of videos that a lot of people want to see. History videos are finite, but there is always a new story to talk about in current events.
What’s the time commitment like, and what’s it like to stay on top of bodybuilding 24/7?
I think a lot of people have no clue how much time goes into running a channel of this size and posting daily content. It’s a 24/7 job honestly, but as far as an actual dedicated window of time, it’s at least five-six hours a day of doing nothing but researching videos, stories, editing videos, reading comments, replying to comments, etc. Most channels my size have employees or some kind of staff working for them to help them with comments, research, brainstorming, and editing. But I am the only person running my channel. I have no employees, just me, in an office, with three computers. Which I don’t mind at all; in fact I enjoy it, and I’m grateful to be in the position I’m in.
And obviously I love the sport of bodybuilding so I do enjoy being so involved in the community and current events.
What was the biggest mistake you made early on?
The biggest mistake I really make when posting so many videos is maybe reporting misinformation or not doing enough research on a subject. But with nearly 2,000 videos uploaded to my channel, it’s almost impossible to get everything perfect. But it’s something I work on every day, trying to make sure I research everything to the best of my ability before making a video about a topic.
How much hate (or love) have you gotten from the bodybuilders themselves? What’s the worst thing any of them have said to him?
Surprisingly, the response from the pros has been overwhelmingly positive. Because I go to expos, I have to meet the bodybuilders that I make videos about. And I’ve never met a single bodybuilder that’s said something negative to me in person. And I’ve met pretty much everybody. Jay Cutler is one of the guys that stands out to me; when I met him at the Arnold Classic this year he did a video with me and said a lot of positive things about me and my channel. He even said he’s subscribed himself and watches every day for the latest bodybuilding news. Or this year’s Indy Pro, for example, at the meet and greet there were pros coming up to me and introducing themselves, and even some that seemed excited to meet me. And that was a surreal feeling.
As far as social media goes, it has been overwhelmingly positive as well. On Instagram the vast majority of top pros follow me back on Instagram and I have regular conversations with many of them, whether they are open bodybuilders, classic physique, or men’s physique competitors, I’m in direct contact with many of them. Some of them even ask me for advice on growing their own YouTube channels and I’m happy to help. The biggest negative was the situation with Phil Heath, but for the most part almost no negativity from the pros.
Talk a little bit about the issue you had with Phil Heath. Was there concern that it could hurt your access to other bodybuilders in the future?
The issue with Phil was not a badge of honor to me at all. I reported on a story, that was public, and posted by a public figure. Didn’t give my opinion, didn’t make any accusations, made clear that everything was just an allegation. Just business as usual, a story came out and I reported it on my channel. I felt that I did nothing wrong, and was well within my rights to report the story. So I did not take the video down. I want it to be known that I had no intention of defaming Phil, and I’m confident that no part of my video could be considered defamation.
However, I do think if Phil had followed through and sued me it would have legitimized the impact of my channel on the bodybuilding world. Not necessarily a badge of honor, but I don’t think ever in the history of bodybuilding has a Mr. Olympia sued a member of the media.
Do things outside of your control—like the changing YouTube algorithms—get you nervous?
With YouTube constantly changing, algorithms are always something in the back of my mind. There is a certain feeling of a lack of “job security” being a YouTuber because they change their policies and algorithms so often. But at the end of the day I really enjoy what I do, and even if I took a massive pay cut or got totally demonetized because of the algorithms I would still make videos, because I love it.
Hopefully what’s next for me is hitting 1 million subscribers. I want to help bodybuilding reach a new audience, and there’s never been a bodybuilding coverage channel to reach 1 million subscribers before, and I plan on being the first. I would also like to start traveling to more shows and covering more shows in person. Right now I’m only going to a handful of pro shows and some amateur shows each year. But every year I enjoy it more and more because so many people want to meet me.
Another big plan I have for my channel after I hit 1 million is to start doing interviews. It’s something I’ve held off on for because I didn’t want bodybuilders to feel like I was using them for views. I want them to feel like they are gaining something by coming on my channel. And I feel like once I’m over 1 million subscribers, the publicity they would gain from coming on for an interview would benefit them possibly even more than it would benefit me. Kind of like how actors and musicians go on talk shows when they want to bring exposure to themselves, or a movie or project they are working on. So I want to do that in the form of a podcast. Maybe something similar to the Joe Rogan Experience. Build a professional studio and everything.