January was a tough month for YouTube’s creator network. After the Disney Channel endorsed YouTube sensation Logan Paul scandalised the platform with a now infamous video in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, YouTube’s CPO and CBO announced on their blog a series of changes to the YouTube Partnership Program (YPP) aiming to address the damage caused by ‘harmful’ creators. The announcement follows a similar post by YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki in December outlining YouTube’s efforts to crack down on ‘problematic content’, including extremist content, violence, and even ‘bad actors […] exploiting [YouTube’s] openness to manipulate, harass or even harm’. While Wojcicki’s announcement addresses wider policies, Mohan and Kyncl’s January announcement alluded to Paul’s controversy stating
‘we also know that the bad action of a single, large channel can also have an impact on the community and how advertisers view YouTube’. This policy was enacted later in the month when Paul yet again made headlines after having advertising on his account suspended due to posting videos featuring abuse of dead animals.
To address the chaos these ‘harmful’ events caused, YouTube have begun to take a far more hands on, involved approach to both how power-creators are managed and how creators can interact with the platform. In the past year ineffective micro-management and user ‘punishment’ from YouTube provoked a huge backlash from the creator community. This event, dubbed the ‘adpocalypse’, reached breaking point after poorly tuned advertiser tools resulted in widespread instant demonetisation of content for infractions as small as light swearing or potentially politically charged material.
Keen to ease this sore spot for creators, YouTube has spent the winter developing new ways in which creators can directly monetise their content. On the 12th of January YouTube made both a big step toward supporting direct monetization of creator’s content and a push back at their number #1 influencer platform competitor Twitch TV by introducing Super Chat, a tool for instant payments from
viewers on live broadcasts. The tool will eventually allow accounts in the YPP to allow commenters on their live streams to pay to have their comments kept at the top of the comment feed, with a large portion of the payment going to the creator. This alongside the recent acquisition of Famebit, a sponsorship marketplace for top-level creators, shows YouTube is looking to nurture their creators’ financial potential and encourage far more reliable revenue streams than ad-sense.
This bolstering of top-level creators has however come at a cost for smaller audience channels. In a strong handed effort to reassure backers that its advertising platform is safe for brands, YouTube announced in January that the eligibility requirement for monetisation will be raised from just 10,000 total views to 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours of watch time over the course of 12 months. As a result, small scale viewers that fall below the bracket have seen adverts stripped from their videos and subsequent ad-sense revenue discontinued. YouTube have claimed this move was designed to restrict the number of those eligible for advertising and thus free up resources to monitor and support content that is ad-appropriate, adding that 99% of those affected were making less than $100 a year. Though these efforts will certainly reduce small, fly-by-night accounts from associating harmful content with their ad-sense assigned sponsor, YouTube has still come under fire for disenfranchising smaller start-up channels.
So how will these changes effect the already established members of YouTube’s
flourishing influencer community? With the release of Super Chat, Famebit, and now most recently YouTube Studio, a far more dynamic and in-depth tool for video insights, YouTube appear to be embarking on a campaign to legitimise and stabilise top-end influencers and content producers. Though YouTube Studios has been in beta stage since June last year, the latest update released in March 2018 allows users to access the metrics creators have been starved of for years; impressions, impression click-through rates, and unique viewers. With access to these tools and with a far more reliable source of income than the fickle ad-sense system, YouTube are no doubt attempting to regain influencers who moved to Twitch during the ‘adpocalypse’ and build better working relationships with top-end creators.
This investment in trusted creators by YouTube should not come as a surprise to anyone interested in the influencer market. 2017 saw YouTube lose a large amount of inbound sponsorship and an exodus of some of their best creators, two factors they will no doubt bend over backwards in 2018 to rectify. These changes to the YPP look to be the start of a project to incite investment in a small quantity of established, high-quality, and above all responsible content creators, while employing a blanket policy that small channels are brand liabilities until proven otherwise. Ultimately, YouTube’s future as an organic marketing platform lies with the small portion of the platform’s creators being developed into a high achieving network of full-time, self-sustainable top-end creators who are producing plenty of advertiser-friendly content.