Industry News

YouTube’s Latest Shake-Up Is Bigger Than Just Ad

Louise Matsakis   business    01.18.18    06:00 am

Thomas M. Wagner has uploaded over 300 science fiction reviews to YouTube since 2013. He’s not a major star, but his content has attracted an audience of around 4,400 bookworms who subscribe to his channel. In return for their attention, Wagner likely receives less than $100 a month in advertising revenue, according to the analytics company SocialBlade.

The vast majority of YouTube comprises niche channels like Wagner’s. They’re small, intended for a very specific audience, and don’t generate a significant amount of advertising revenue. On Tuesday, YouTube announced a new set of policies that indicate it wants to worry less about these modest efforts, and focus more on its major stars, who often have tens of millions of subscribers, and earn six figures or more annually.

The new policies aim to prevent advertisers from appearing alongside controversial or inappropriate content, which has been a major problem for YouTube over the past year. The changes come two weeks after the latest controversy, in which Logan Paul—one of YouTube’s most popular creators—published a video featuring a suicide victim’s body hanging from a tree.

YouTube executives said in two blog posts—one aimed at content creators and one at advertisers—that channels would only be permitted to run advertisements if they have accumulated a total of 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 “watch hours” over the last 12 months. Previously, the marker had been 10,000 total lifetime views. The change effectively means YouTubers must now reach a higher popularity threshold before they can start seeing revenue. The platform said it needed to amend its policies in order to prevent abuse from “bad actors.”

YouTube also announced that humans would soon begin screening every video from creators who participate in Google Preferred, a special premium advertising program that guarantees revenue for the top five percent or so of creators. YouTube removed Paul—who has over 15 million subscribers—from the program in the aftermath of the suicide video.

Taken together, the two new policies represent a shift toward larger creators. YouTube is now excluding extremely small channels from advertising all together, and instead focusing both its monetization and its moderation efforts on larger, more valuable channels.

“The platform was once seen as a way for anyone to find a big audience,” says Wagner. “The new guidelines are now saying, in effect, ‘Okay, you only matter to us if you’re already big.’”

Reining It In

YouTube is unimaginably sprawling—its users upload hundreds of hours of video each minute. It’s a monumental task for the company to merely keep illegal content like child porn off its platform. Ensuring that millions of videos are also suitable for advertisers is a complicating burden, one that YouTube has repeatedly failed to manage even just in the last year.

‘It discourages everyone else from building a channel from the ground up, subscriber by subscriber, week by week, the way so many original YouTubers did.’

YouTube Creator Matt Wallace

In March of last year, journalists uncovered that prominent ads were repeatedly showing up next to extremist and offensive content, leading to a brief advertiser exodus from the platform. Around the same time, PewDiePie—YouTube’s most popular creator—was found to have posted several anti-semitic videos featuring Nazi imagery. Then, journalists discovered that hundreds of channels were sharing disturbing videos aimed at kids, sometimes featuring child abuse.

In the wake of each controversy, YouTube pledged to rein in its platform. In December, following the latest scandal, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced that it would hire up to 10,000 human moderators to help screen videos. And now, it will closely monitor its most successful creators, and keep everyone else out of the money.

Those latest changes also highlight the degree to which YouTube functions like a talent agency, selling advertisements against content produced by its stars. It makes sense from a business standpoint to focus on managing a handful of Taylor Swifts, rather than millions of niche bands with potentially offensive lyrics. Fewer channels making more money may discourage emerging voices, but it’s far easier to control.

The Little Guy

Then again, YouTube has attracted countless creators by selling them on the idea that it was an open, welcoming platform on which they too could one day be a star. That dream now seems less likely than ever.

“It’s just not realistic, the continued dangling of the carrot to the public that you too can become a YouTube sensation and monetize your way to riches,” says Sarah T. Roberts, an assistant professor of information studies at UCLA and an expert in internet culture. “The bar keeps getting moved higher and higher. It’s become more and more difficult for anyone to do that.”

YouTube noted in one post that nearly all the channels affected by the new rules make less than $100 a year in advertising revenue. But losing even a tiny profit can dissuade a small creator just getting started.

“It discourages everyone else from building a channel from the ground up, subscriber by subscriber, week by week, the way so many original YouTubers did,” says Matt Wallace, a writer and YouTuber with a modest audience. ”  “It also rewards content based solely on views and watch time, factors which favor manufactured YouTuber ‘feuds’ and stunt/shock content.”

For viewers, YouTube may no longer be the place to find the next big thing. Internet stars might instead start their careers on a platform better suited to their needs, like Twitch or Instagram. “[YouTube] is going to run the risk of upsetting the delicate balance of their content creators versus their advertisers,” says Roberts. “They’re going to give a market opportunity to someone else.”

If YouTube loses its small, upcoming creators, the site’s community will inherently change. It will likely become more commercialized; filled with popular creators diligently adhering to advertiser guidelines, brands, and media companies. “To me,” says Wallace, “that all signals an end to the artistic, cultural, and sociopolitical merit YouTubers worked so hard to establish, back when the popular perception of YouTube was that it was a website filled with cat memes.”

https://www.wired.com/story/youtube-monetization-creators-ads/

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