In the wake of repeated scandals, a new YouTube rule makes it dramatically harder for smaller creators to make money on the platform. But the rule may have no impact on the platform’s worst offenders. Worse, it prioritizes advertisers over users.
The past year has been a tough one for YouTube. There have been cartoon images aimed at children that veer into violent and scary territory. There have been videos that drew hundreds of comments from pedophiles and disturbing scenes of child abuse. There have been videos promoting violence, racism, and hatred. Then concern over YouTube hit a fever pitch this year when superstar Logan Paul posted video of an apparent suicide victim in Japan’s Aokigahara Forest. Like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the “suicide forest” is a popular destination for those who seek to end their lives.
All these events have drawn a lot of negative response from YouTube’s advertisers, understandably perturbed at having their ads run alongside this distasteful stuff (although the suicide forest video ran ad-free). Google, YouTube’s parent company, built the success of its search engine and advertising program by consistently putting users’ interests first and advertisers’ desires second. This time, it’s come up with a solution designed to appease advertisers at the expense of its viewers and creators, especially those with a substantial but not huge following.
The response to YouTube’s public image crisis began in December, when YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki explained in a blog post that the company was vastly beefing up its monitoring of video content, both by vastly expanding the team of humans responsible for reviewing content and deploying machine learning to flag inappropriate content. YouTube followed up this week–soon after the infamous Logan Paul video–by enacting new rules that make it much harder for YouTube creators to earn money from the platform by having ads run with their work.
It’s the second time in less than a year that the platform has made such a change. For more than a decade, anyone who wanted could post videos to YouTube, have ads run on them, and receive a portion of the proceeds, although that made for negligible sums for YouTube members with smaller followings. Then in April, likely in response to advertiser complaints, the company announced that only channels with at least 10,000 lifetime views could do so. Members grumbled, but for anyone serious about posting video to the platform and sharing it on social media, it was a relatively easy number to reach. Now YouTube has raised the bar considerably. New channels now need at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time in the past 12 months before they can be considered for advertising, and the rule will extend to existing channels on February 20.
The new requirements, especially the watch time rule, will be challenging for many of the platforms smaller channels to achieve. One music producer with several YouTube channels told TNW that under the old rules, YouTube channels with a smaller following could at least earn enough to cover the costs of DIY video production. Under the new rules, he’ll be canceling some YouTube projects, and so will others he knows. He added that the gap between the old rule and the new one is “massive.”
In it for the money?
In the blog blog post announcing the change, Neal Mohan chief product officer and Robert Kyncl, chief business officer argue that while many channels will be affected, most were making very little money from YouTube in any case. According to the blog, 99 percent of them were making less than $100 per year from advertising, most of them quite a lot less.
The blog authors add that the move will “tackle the potential abuse of a large but disparate group of smaller channels.” But they don’t explain exactly how changing the rules about advertising revenue will tackle that abuse. If their numbers are right and the vast majority of YouTube channels that carry advertising make less than $3 a month from it, then it’s safe to say that most people who post to YouTube aren’t doing it for the money. Three dollars a month of lost revenue doesn’t seem like a powerful disincentive to get someone who’s been posting offensive content to stop.
It will, of course, make it much easier to protect YouTube’s advertisers. With a greatly reduced crop of YouTube channels able to carry advertising, coupled with greatly expanded capabilities for reviewing content, the company now has a much better shot at keeping advertising off channels that post offensive content.
So far as I can tell, that appears to be YouTube’s strategy: To focus its attention on the very large channels that can carry advertising and stop worrying about everyone else, YouTube viewers included. All the same pornographic, racist, violent, and otherwise offensive content that has always been on YouTube still will be there–but now it will be ad-free.