YouTube, the Google owned video streaming site, has always had an uneasy relationship with their creators. The Partner program, which allows creators to make money from advertising on their videos, launched in December 2007. This opened up a world of possibilities for the creators, many of whom could make content full time, and YouTube benefited by placing high value ads on these premium videos. This worked well for YouTube, but it also gave the creators unprecedented power over the platform. Content creators have became the reason why people come back to YouTube time and time again. As the sites popularity rose, so did it’s stars. PewDiePie, Roman Atwood, ZeFrank (what happened to ZeFrank?) and Lillie Singh are just a few examples of the many successes made on YouTube. Initially the relationship between Creator and YouTube was harmonious, YouTube supported their talent and the talent supported YouTube. However as YouTube made more changes to their service, creators have become more uneasy about the platform they make their living. From opaque changes to the algorithm that makes YouTube work, to miscommunication when YouTube adds new feature or takes them away, there seems to be a lack of communication between YouTube and it’s Partners. When the WSJ broke the news that adverts were running against extremist content, big brands pulled their adverts from YouTube, changing the relationship between platform, advertisers and creators in a way that’s seems to be impacting the creators directly.
It’s been a rough time for YouTube as of late, with quite a few controversies over the last few months. It started with PewDiePie, the most subscribed YouTuber with just shy of 55 million subscribers. PewDiePie, the screen name of Felix Kjellberg, has never been above some controversy. His style of videos, both blogs and let’s plays, sees him employ shock tactics and political and social commentary to give him an edge. In fact, it would be hard to find a let’s play Youtuber who hadn’t been influenced by PewDiePie in some way. His followers, a high percentage of which are young people, enjoy his humour – he doesn’t have 55 millions follows for no reason. However, his latest controversy damaged his reputation amongst the YouTube community. In the offending video, PewDiePie used Fiiver, a website offering freelancers to help you with anything from homework to web design, to employ freelancers to read anti-semitic phrases. PewDiePie was quickly take off of the preferred creator list for advertisers and was let go from Maker Studios, the Disney owned Network which PewDiePie was a part of. If PewDiePie meant the sentiment or whether it was a misjudged joke is not the point of this post, but it certainly didn’t help YouTube. PewDiePie has apologised for his remarks and this alteration certainly hasn’t hurt his subscribers. But it brought a lot of unwanted attention to the platform and made advertisers sit up and pay attention to the content on which they were advertising. This was strike one for the service.
Then, once it was discovered that ads from high profile companies were running against extremist content, things went from bad to worse for YouTube. Companies like McDonalds, BMW, HSBC, PepsiCo, and Starbucks – to name a few – boycotted YouTube, pulling their adverts and consequently their money from the service. This hurt YouTubes parent company, Google, causing them to lose millions of dollars. YouTube responded by giving greater controls to the advertisers allowing them to control exactly which content their ads play against. However, this has had a negative effect on the content creators that were once YouTube’s bread and butter. Consequently, some content creators are seeing their video’s marked as non-advertiser friendly or as it’s call on YouTube, ‘demonetised’. This can have a detrimental effect on many channels who have risqué content or aren’t necessarily aiming for family friendly content. H3H3, a husband and wife comedy duo, has seen a significant number of their videos being demonetised. Ethan and Hila Klein explained in their recently video titled, “We’re at an Important Crossroad in our Lives”, that 7 out of 8 of their latest videos have been demonetised. They went on to explain that they “make 16 cents on every dollar that we used to make.” They’ve had to make the decision to create less content for their YouTube channel to try and mitigate their losses. And it’s not just H3H3 productions that have been hit. Popular YouTubers from Philip DeFranco to iDubbbzTV have seen videos being demonetised because they are deemed unsuitable for advertisers. Taking away funding from creators reduces the incentives for them to create content for the platform. YouTube are treading a fine line and it seems they are currently siding with the advertisers.
YouTube is comfortable in the fact that there is currently no real alternatives for creators to go to. The nearest competition YouTube has is Vimeo, a video streaming service aimed towards filmmakers. They don’t run adverts on their site and don’t have anything comparable to the Partner Platform, in fact many users pay Vimeo upload to the platform and it has nowhere near the user base that YouTube has. The now shuttered service, Vessel, aimed to use a subscription model to entice Creators away from YouTube, and while they did have some initial success, the company was quickly liquidated.
The closest alternative would be the Amazon owned Twitch, a platform primarily used for live streaming game sessions. This works for some content, H3H3 are moving their live Podcast to Twitch, but it’s not ideal for non-live content, which makes up the majority of YouTube videos.
Some creators are using services to augment their revenue from YouTube. The most popular way of creating revenue is Patreon. Patreon allows subscribers to give money directly to the creators through a small monthly fee, with Patrons being gifted exclusive or early access to content and events for their subscriptions. Kinda Funny, a YouTube channel set up by ex IGN employees has seen tremendous success from patreon, as have many other channels. Merchandising has also become a staple of YouTube creators income, with popular YouTubers like Philip Defranco and Hank and John Green setting up their own merch distribution businesses.
Even direct advertising through sponsorships work well, allowing the creators to circumvent YouTubes ad system and allowing creators to advertise products that they believe in. YouTube has certain rules around the use of sponsorships in videos but it doesn’t seem to be enforced to heavily.
Of course, it has always been smart for creators to have multiple streams of income and to many the latest moves from Youtube would not have come as a surprise.
Youtube as a brand continues to grow. Over the last few years, they have been making moves to become more of a traditional content delivery platform, with the introduction of YouTube Red, the sites subscription service, and YouTube TV, a service offering live TV streaming over the internet. The future of YouTube is fairly certain, but it also can’t forget about it’s creators, many of whom have been with the platform from the start and helped make YouTube a success. It seems that YouTube’s push to become more of a traditional content company, and it’s tightening rules around advertising to keep lucrative ad money coming their way, means the days of being able to be publish anything you want and YouTube paying for your services are numbered.