By Dan Speerin (VP and IWCC Director of Communications)
You may have noticed your fellow creators freaking out last week over YouTube’s “new” plan for monetizing content. The concern hit a fever pitch through the twitter hashtag #YouTubeIsOverParty. So what exactly happened? Luckily much like the previously trending #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty – YouTube is still with us. So now that the dust has settled, let us try and help clear things up for you.
Q: Phil DeFranco seemed very upset last week and Phil is never wrong, so what gives?
The short answer is YouTube just had a major communications fail in the way it rolled out a feature to tell creators their videos weren’t being monetized. This led to some of the biggest creators on YouTube waking up to find hundreds of videos that were no longer monetized. That of course led to a panicked internet reaction that YouTube had instituted a demonetization policy overnight. In reality, they just got better at making us aware of it and allowing us to appeal it.
The longer answer is that what this communications failure revealed, probably complicated things even more and real conversations about the financial transparency of the ecosystem need to be had. But the good news is - nothing is "over".
The Catch Up:
- In 2012 YouTube begins a more brand friendly approach to adsense – this means content that skews a bit more “edgy” or often talks about touchy social issues may be harder to monetize due to a sweeping algorithm that searches for words, phrases and ideas that George Carlin use to build comedy routines around. (Google Him Kids – wait, maybe not)
- In 2015, YouTube decides it’s important to make this algorithm even more sensitive to "terrorism", leading videos like “Mentos Coke Explosion” – to be treated like ISIS.
- In 2016, YouTube decides that monetization should be treated much like copyright use to be – where you’re guilty until proven innocent but you’re allowed to appeal. Creators in one shot, get notifications about all previous videos that have been demonetized. BUT (here's the good part) creators can now begin to appeal these decisions to win back monetization. It's like Pokemon Go, except sad and frustrating. Okay, so like Pokemon Go.
- Because of this pretty epic communications fail with creators, larger creators and MCN's are left confused with large portions of their videos demonetized while Twitter went straight to DEFCON 1 and proclaimed YouTube “over”. With all of the confusion, hundreds of vlogs begin to appear worrying that all of our content ended up in some odd YouTube remake of Footloose.
Q: What types of content are affected by this change?
Well that’s the catch, everyone can technically be affected by this – but your odds are a lot higher if you talk about current events, social issues and politics. That being said, various creators from all verticals claimed to be affected by the change.
Q: Okay, since I'm a business whose livelihood depends on this, what’s not allowed?
This is where things get even more fun. These are the community guidelines.
- Sexually suggestive content, including partial nudity and sexual humor
- Violence, including display of serious injury and events related to violent extremism
- Inappropriate language, including harassment, swearing and vulgar language
- Promotion of drugs and regulated substances, including selling, use and abuse of such items
- Controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown
So, that clears everything up for you right?
Q: No, no it doesn't - what if my video isn't offensive?
So, if you're like many creators and found your video of Mentos "exploding" inside coke demonetized and it just happens to turn out that you're not a crafty terrorist - well, you have to submit a claim to win back your monetization.
Q: Wait, doesn't that mean I will lose revenue?
Yes, yes it does. And as of right now, unlike the copyright fix that holds "contested money" in a magic pirate box waiting to be claimed - you just flat out lose it here.
Q: But if I make content about viral trends or timely news content - won't this really hurt my monthly earnings?
This is highly concerning for those who have built business models based around these types of content but haven't scaled to other revenue streams. Until the algorithm becomes more accurate, this will be a hassle for these creators. And with the appeals process as it is now, it could be enough to make one think twice about making this kind of content at all. Which hurts the diversity of thought of not just the YouTube economy, but also it's community.
Q: I heard this was a SJW plot to rid YouTube of conservative opinion, though I also heard the same about the Alt-Right getting rid of SJW opinion - who owns the truth?
As boring as this sounds, despite what you may have read on Reddit, sadly there is no grand conspiracy here. Progressive politics MCN The Young Turks were equally affected by the change as were some of the top Conservative YouTubers. The algorithm has yet to be bought by the Koch Brothers or George Soros, but we shall keep you updated.
Q: But still this is basically censorship right?
YouTube is a private company and has the right to set out whatever guidelines it wishes. This is why various sources of income and income streams are now more crucial than ever. Where this can't seen as downright censorship, it definitely feels like community shaping to many. It's hard to make the argument that changes like these won't result in a change of creator behaviour. If you're commenting on the news, current events or social issues - you probably look like this right now.
The hardest pill for creators to swallow though is how easily preventable some of this was. We're now a decade into this game and these types of unsettling disruptions affect thousands of creators who have chosen to make a career on YouTube. When the communication breaks down, we end up with wide speculation that not only hurts individual creators but the industry as a whole. What could’ve been an announcement about an improvement in services ended up being a funeral on twitter. Turns out in the age of the internets, panic spreads fast.
May We Suggest Some Conversation Starters?
1. Begin by consulting creator organizations: Okay, you knew we were going to say this one, but we began our journey as creators advocating for creators in 2013 here in Canada. We’re proud to say we’ve made some major gains working within traditional media and explaining how the web creation model works to various stakeholders within the larger entertainment industry. More importantly we hope we’ve earned our fellow creators trust. Letting various worldwide creator organizations into the mix will not only help the services improve, but also help quash wild rumours from being started when important details roll out. These groups have very simple goals and that is to help the digital creation industry succeed.
2. Creator First Strategies: In the modern era of YouTube creation many folks are living off of their YouTube business. Whether it was copyright strikes or now monetization due to TOS/community guidelines, rolling out the ways creators can stay monetized at the same time as changes to the system happen would be a great improvement. What this latest controversy showed us, is how few creators realized their videos had lost monetization – even if they had realized they had no real course of action. We realize with the amount of content we're dealing with - bugs will happen, but it would be nice to find ways to stay monetized through this period.
3. The Little Guy: We’d like to applaud the ICG for there great suggestions on how to make this process easier for creators.
The advantages the top tier creators and MCN’s have is the ability to hire paid interns/employees to help with the business side of creation. Filling our monetization claims is fine if you have someone to do that, but if you’re like most creators you’re a one or two person team. Things like this not only can throw your entire business model off, but it can become a real hurdle to creation – because instead of spending time focusing on your audience, you’re filing claims. A stronger algorithm and straightforward workflow can make a huge difference in the day of a creator. It’s our job as the first creators through the door to make sure the opportunity is there for those who come after. These changes are key to making YouTube a more fair playing ground.
4. Don’t Forget Why We All Ran To YouTube: I know it’s been a decade but a big reason why people loved YouTube was to get away from the grip of television’s ad culture. And I don’t mean because we didn’t want to watch ads. I mean creators wanted freedom without gatekeepers. While many want to lay this latest gaffe at the feet of YouTube, it’s important to remember it’s also the rigid way of the advertising world, that is demanding a pre-internet era “brand friendly” YouTube. Each year at T.O. WebFest we host some of the most talented and creative Web Series creators in the world and most have one thing in common. They found an audience that television didn’t think existed. If these creators can dream big and find an audience, so to can the marketing world. It seems silly in 2016 to think we haven’t moved beyond such a myopic view of what content is “acceptible” for brands.
5. Until the Ad Industry Evolves It’s Up to Us – The best way to make sure content isn’t watered down or changed because of algorithmic or policy changes is simply to support it. It’s amazing how little it would take to make some channels completely independent. If everybody who watched YouTube took the cost of one movie ticket per month and spread it out to each of their favourite channels – it would completely change the ecosystem. If you worried about the content of your favourite channel when this change happened, why not support them with a donation or by buying some merch?
What do you think? Let us know and we'll put your responses in a blog post!
The Independent Web Creators of Canada is a digital creators association that supports and promotes the needs and activities of independent, creator driven and audience focused web projects. We seek to inform stakeholders and build relationships to help create better frameworks for people to access a democratized digital media ecosystem.
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