Content Creators on YouTube (since the site’s inception) have for the most part been exempt from a governing body filtering course language, violent and graphic imagery, or sexually explicit visuals. There’s many reasons for this. The internet is the wild west of new media and the culture surrounding it encourages openness for experimenting, sharing and implementing thoughts and ideas without a boundary to limit the process.
As it pertains to YouTube, the site has been through the hard yards of legal and monetary troubles over the past few years. The more it grew, the more attention it got from traditional media issuing takedowns or taking over monetisation of videos using copyrighted material.
Content Creators on YouTube are wildcards, essentially. Some channels are run by large companies, but for the most part YouTube is held up by independent people just making whatever comes to mind.
This is where risk comes into play for advertisers on YouTube. Companies don’t have control over where their ads appear on the website. And sometimes it can lead to a situation where UK Government ads are funding Terrorist or hate speech videos.
In a Wall Street Journal report in March, the publication discovered ads running alongside objectionable videos on YouTube. The article contained several screenshots also showing a Coca-Cola ad on said content.
This lead to a mass boycott by advertisers on YouTube, with brands such as Coca-Cola, Walmart, AT&T and Volkswagen just to name a few, pulling all advertising from Google and its owned platforms. To really hammer home the gravity of the situation, here’s a list of some of the 250 brands and advertisers that exited:
– Lloyds Banking Group
– Royal Bank of Scotland
– Marks and Spencer
– Channel 4
– J Sainsbury and Argos
– The Guardian
– Johnson & Johnson
– UK Government
– Transport for London
Coincidently YouTube was failing to upload this, so Vimeo stepped in to save the day.
Starting a YouTube channel is a business now. Gone are the days of a humble little hobby that gradually builds an audience and turns into a profitable venture. YouTube channels are now started with the intention of being a successful career choice for people.
A catastrophic effect was left for the Content Creators to deal with and ads were quite scarce. No ads means no money, and with some creators revealing their earnings had been slashed by 99%, earning a living becomes impossible. When you’re already splitting 50% of the revenue with YouTube or even additionally splitting a percentage with a Multi-Channel Network for promotion, it does force many creators to pursue other career options. Simply put, less creators also means less money for YouTube.
One week later, Google rolled out an update to their ad placement algorithm. Prior to the update, ad placement was determined by a number of factors including a user’s search experience, keywords, likes, shares or video views. Of course, it’s much more complex that that but that’s the easiest way to explain a mathematically algorithm.
The new update determines if a video is deemed “advertiser friendly” for monetization through AdSense (Google’s advertising partner program). Along with the update came a very broad list of guidelines on their terms of service that try to clarify what this means for content creators, but ultimately doesn’t quite dive into the specifics on what to avoid doing. Here’s the dot pointed guidelines that videos could potentially be flagged for:
– Controversial issues and sensitive events
– Drugs and dangerous products or substances
– Harmful or dangerous acts
– Harmful content
– Inappropriate language
– Inappropriate use of family entertainment characters
– Incendiary and demeaning
– Sexually suggestive content
To Google’s credit, they do break down each rule and frequently stress that context is key when reviewing videos that have appealed a demonization by the creator. Unfortunately this isn’t a “how to not get your videos demonetized” guideline because it details at least one or two things that almost all content creators are guilty of and a computerised algorithm isn’t capable of detecting context. Technology has come a long way, but it’s still not human.
Content creators can appeal a video that has been flagged for not being “advertiser friendly”, but it can take up to 2 days for it to be reviewed by an actual human. Problem being, after 24 hours, view counts for a video have already peaked and are gradually descending. So by the time a video is reviewed, revenue would already be significantly less than its initial trend. These guidelines are completely subjective. What could be deemed Inappropriate Language for one person may be acceptable to the thousands or millions of other people watching the video. It only takes one opinion to affect someone’s livelihood.
As expected, these changes have had a negative effect with content creation on YouTube. The genres affected the most seem to be satire/comedic sketches as well as video game “let’s plays” and news/current events channels.
The new algorithm isn’t a fan of risqué or controversial humour and violence in video games, which happens to be the basis of the majority of video games currently. It’s understood that news and current events content is unfavourable for YouTube due to its open discussion for topics like politics, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, or any other deplorable act that presents something graphic and confronting.
The creators themselves have been very outspoken on the site during this process. Many are producing satirical content to make light of the absurdity. Some also directing their blame to the Wall Street Journal specifically, feeling that the report was a direct attack by traditional media to take down YouTube. However farfetched that conspiracy sounds, if you were to go back a month prior, there was another controversy the Wall Street Journal was stirring up relating to YouTube.
WSJ presented evidence of anti-Semitic jokes and content from the top YouTuber on the platform PewDiePie, to his Multi-Channel Network, Maker Studios who is owned by Disney. One of the examples presented was a video in which PewDiePie paid freelancers on the website Fiverr, to hold up a sign reading “Death To All Jews”. The context of the joke being how people on the site would do anything, no matter how horrible, for $5. This led to Disney’s Maker Studios severing ties with PewDiePie as well as the second season of his YouTube Red show “Scare PewDiePie” being cancelled. What followed was a media storm and a PR nightmare for YouTube which almost certainly strained the relationship between advertisers and the website.
PewDiePie, real name Felix Kjellberg, released a video titled “My Response” (which has since been deleted), formally apologising for the Fiverr video stating the joke went too far and admitting to being a “rookie comedian”. However, he also presented a rebuttal towards WSJ, stating the other examples they presented were out of context remarks, jokes and slight hand gestures that even remotely resembled Nazism or anti-Semitism. Kjellberg, who surely was going through a whirlwind of emotions at the time, felt mainstream media outlets were scared of YouTube personalities and the WSJ’s article was an attack on him.
The controversy a month prior to the “Adpocalypse” soured the grapes for advertisers but also fuelled the fire against traditional media outlets and their treatment of YouTubers.
So, after all this doom and gloom, is there a light at the end of the advertising wasteland YouTube is currently in? Nobody knows. Anticlimactic yes, but it’s been 6 months since the proverbial “YouTube doomsday” and there has been a small, positive turn around for a good amount of creators. Revenue for some is steadily back to a rate where it was prior to the whole ordeal and overtime creators will learn the system and understand what to avoid.
YouTube support has encouraged people to always appeal videos that have been demonetized as it helps the algorithm learn what is “advertiser friendly” in a specific sense. This massive overhaul by YouTube is believed to be their way of proving to advertisers that the site is safe and welcoming for marketers. As it pertains to the advertisers, some companies have returned since the mass exodus and resumed marketing through Adsense. If history is any indicator, so will the rest of them.
YouTube has a stranglehold over a 10-35 year old age bracket (well above any other advertising medium). It would be difficult for any marketing department to resist the urge to dip their toe back in the millennium pool of YouTube.
For the users of the site, you may not have noticed much of a change in content from some of your favourite creators. Either they haven’t joined the train of videos ranting on the subject or perhaps their channel has managed to avoid the debacle.
Nonetheless, as a viewer it’s important to show some support for the content they produce. The people on the platform are ordinary people as well trying to make a living. For us the viewer, we get entertainment for no cost at all other than our own dedicated time. So keep watching YouTube videos, maybe leave a like or a positive comment, or even tell a friend. Just for future reference, Adblock has a “don’t run on this page” option.