YouTube has been the largest online video platform for a long time. Beginning in 2005, this massive platform has been hosting videos on every topic under the sun. As the site became more popular, they instated a paid contributor system where popular video creators could opt to add in advertisements to their content in order to make money. This program continued relatively unchanged until 2017, when scandal caused YouTube to re-evaluate their paid contributor program.
The changes YouTube has introduced as a result has stirred up some interest in the marketing and advertising community. Understanding the events that led to YouTube’s policy changes can provide some insight into how online advertising, particularly on social media platforms, may be changing. We’ve broken it down to help you understand what’s happening and what it may mean in the future.
The demonetization of channels began around 2017 when smaller channels using the popular Google AdSense program to profit from their content were dropped. Protests started cropping when controversial videos were posted on the site, including terrorism videos and pedophilic content. In response, YouTube tightened their guidelines for both posting and monetization.
The scandal surrounding PewDiePie was the first hint of major issues between the popular video platform and its advertisers. After anti-Semitic comments and imagery were found in the super-popular user’s videos, followed up by racial language in a live-streamed video, advertisers demanded their ads be pulled. The backlash centered on not only the user but also his associated advertisers, who were scrambling to distance themselves from the start.
Videos began to be more scrutinized and YouTube pulled ads from any videos that could potentially cause issues with advertisers. This included videos for gun reviews, hunting videos, and many political channels. Alongside this move came the rise of YouTube Red, a paid ad-free service that allowed users to watch carefully curated and professionally-shot content without advertisements.
The issue came to a head in early 2018 with the now-infamous Logan Paul video, which included footage of a suicide victim in Japan. Logan Paul was dropped from YouTube Red and the company moved to distance themselves from the beleaguered star. Within a few days, Google unveiled new YouTube guidelines for paid content that would dramatically shrink the pool of paid content contributors and would place advertisers as the main focus of their content approval system for users.
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After the international outcry, YouTube revealed a new plan for stricter requirements for inclusion in their YouTube Partner Program (YPP) which would not only refine the amount of users that could be included in the program but also added human screening protocols that would help weed out videos that might pass computerized algorithms but were still deemed inappropriate for users.
Previously, to be a part of the YPP program, creators had to have a minimum of 10,000 views over all their videos and time on YouTube. Now, users must have 4,000 hours of watch time over a year and 1,000 subscribers. Lauren Johnson of Adweek quotes Paul Muret, VP of display, video, and analytics at YouTube, saying “While we took several steps last year to protect advertisers from inappropriate content, we know we need to do more to ensure that their ads run alongside content that reflects their values.”
This emphasis on value reflection is an interesting move for a company that runs on user-created content. While YouTube Red includes YouTube produced content, the vast majority of the videos on the platform, including monetized and non-monetized videos, are made by independent content creators. By changing their guidelines, YouTube has firmly set its expectation from its content creators and has given itself the power to more carefully curate monetized videos.
Creators vs. Platform
The move to more stringent YPP guidelines and the demonetization of videos has led to a huge backlash against YouTube, primarily from small content producers who were previously included in the YPP but are no longer eligible. Some content producers have moved to other platforms, most popularly the crowd-funding content site Patreon, which has no content filter and allows consumers to directly give money to their favorite producers. According to Julia Alexander of Polygon, Google claims that “99 percent of those affected were making less than $100 per year in the last year, with 90 percent earning less than $2.50 in the last month.” While smaller channels might be booted out, the bigger channels shouldn’t see much change in their monetization status.
After all, there are some serious perks for companies looking to advertise on the site now. Now companies can choose from a three-tiered media system that allows them varying levels of sensitivity and selectivity when it comes to choosing what channels can run their ads. As stated by Alexander, “YouTube relies on ad revenue to pay creators, help YouTube Red projects (along with paid subscriptions), and pay the engineers and coders who run the platform itself. YouTube isn’t a video service; it’s an advertising platform.” This new feature is sure to draw in new advertisers.
YouTube has firmly grounded its position as an advertiser-sided company. While this has upset many of the small channel creators, it has lead to more stringent reviewing of paid content as well as given advertising companies more control over where their ads are played. With all the controversial content that has earned YouTube criticism over the past few years, introducing these new guidelines and features helps stabilize the future of the platform while reassuring their advertisers.
It may seem like YouTube is turning its back on its consumers. However, with the incredibly far-reaching power of the internet and seemingly endless content not only on YouTube, but the web as a whole, this move allows YouTube, and therefore their advertisers, more control over content.
Visual and multimedia advertisements are some of the most powerful and effective tools available to companies. YouTube’s new contributor guidelines and their repercussions provide a fascinating look at the new consumer, producer, platform, and advertiser relationships within the digital age.