Youtube’s Inner Chaos
A quick disclaimer: This article is opinionated, and while I have confidence in the factuality of what I am stating, I do not have the full right to claim that they are solid facts. Feel free to contact me if any of my statements are false.
Youtube, as most people know, is nearly the most popular website there is, only surpassed by Google. For most of its users, Youtube is a place to find a video related to something you want, you look up a tutorial, you watch a video that tells you how to perform whatever menial task you forgot how to do. But for many of Youtube’s denizens, the website acts more like a television than a search engine. Over the years, Youtube has served as a launchpad for many content creators to launch successful careers in their craft.
One of the most seemingly bizarre -at least, from an objective standpoint- genres to be created by this website is the Let’s Play. The average format for this field is a video consisting of recorded gameplay of a popular video game, with active commentary from the player. The largest and most profitable user, Pewdiepie, reached his current size at around 50 million subscribers through this format. Before taxes, Pewdiepie’s revenue is an estimated $12 million.
In short, he get’s paid to play video games.
This article, is not about Pewdiepie, however controversial he may be as of late. The real focus here is how youtubers gain revenue. Many of the largest channels make much of their money from brand deals and sponsorships, but many of these content creators rely on ad revenue. As you may have noticed, most youtube videos have an advertisement at the beginning, and many may have multiple ads, depending on the length of the video. In the past, these were just to help cover the cost of running the website. However, around 2007, Youtube added the ability to create partnerships, which basically split the revenue from advertisements 50/50 between the uploader and Youtube itself. This opened many doors for users creating popular content, and since then many of these popular internet personalities make their living off of that revenue.
However, over the past few years, this thriving community has started to feel the ground crumble beneath its feet. The first apparent issue was changes in Youtube’s algorithm.
Youtube is owned by Google, as many of you probably know. Since Google is a company based on a search engine, it’s no surprise that Youtube’s system of management is based on a powerful, complicated algorithm. This code basically decides which videos are recommended to you, which videos are trending (although there is some skepticism on that, I’ll cover that later), and how much a video can spread. This is a device of immense power, that can make or break many careers, and it has, several times.
At one point, Youtube changed its algorithm to measure ‘view minutes,’ meaning it mattered not only who watched what, but for how long as well. This basically meant that you’re videos wouldn’t gain traction, unless there was enough video to watch in the first place. This absolutely decimated most of the animation community. Due to the fact that animating takes a long time, animation channels can’t keep up with the amount of footage that needs to be uploaded to stay relevant.
While the animation community got hit the hardest, this affected many other creators as well. The aforementioned Pewdiepie made a video about the ’10 minute rule,’ basically outright stating that a video needs to be at least 10 minutes long to generate any money. Ever since, there have been many hits to content quality over the years, with many Youtubers editing their videos to be exactly or slightly longer than 10 minutes to stay in the green.
But that’s not the only calamity affecting the content creators of Youtube. As part of Youtube’s community guidelines, stealing is obviously against the rules. To enforce this, users have been given the ability to place a copyright strike on another user’s content, if it steals their intellectual property. If the strike is validated, it’s permanent strike on the channel itself, and upon getting 3 strikes, that channel, as well as all of its content, is completely deleted. Seems fair, right? Sadly, it isn’t very hard to abuse. The problem arises when a copyright strike is applied wrongfully. There is a piece of legislation that exists called ‘Fair Use,’ which basically exists to give content creators the right to criticise, parody, and remix copyrighted content without getting slammed by DMCA claims. There are many channels out there that would not exist without this rule. The example I’ll be using is a channel called h3h3, a popular youtube channel that more or less has earned its success from criticising and commenting on popular fads, viral videos, and general news. In fact, my inspiration to write this article came from their frequent coverage of Youtube screwing up.
H3h3 was actually a direct victim of someone abusing the copyright claiming system of Youtube. Content on Youtube is very similar to how TV works, except much faster. When a video is claimed, it gets taken down temporarily, until either the claim is proven wrong, or the claim is validated and it is deleted. However, for a channel based on reacting to things, having a video taken down basically nullifies a significant part of viewership, which for many content creators quite literally translates into paying rent. The perpetrator in this case was the creator of a video that h3h3 criticized (trust me, it is worthy of criticism). Not only did he strike them, he actually sued them, costing them about half a million dollars. Even with millions of subscribers, that is a ridiculous amount of money to pay for just being proven innocent. Luckily, a concerned Youtuber named Philip DeFranco started a crowdfunding campaign to help them out.
While the whole lawsuit part is not really Youtube’s fault and more of a commentary of how incredibly broken and predatory our lawsuit system in the U.S. is, getting a copyright strike is a very big deal. It damages your credibility, and if it isn’t resolved, it can destabilize your channel. It wouldn’t be such a problem if Youtube actually cooperated.
Here is the second worst thing Youtube has done; keep quiet. With the livelihood of so many creators on the line so often, one would expect Youtube to address their concerns and fixed the problems. They’ve always been there to fix software glitches, and they will usually announce when they change things, but getting a copyright strike taken can take a painstakingly long time. Don’t forget, a video on breaking news will lose all of its steam of it isn’t viewed with a week or two of the event, so if the copyright claim is still there, the creator can miss out. Even the largest names on Youtube frequently have trouble getting them to talk to them at all to address their concerns. But this issue is a drop in the bucket compared to the devastation brought on by the…
This biblical event is actually a recent one, as in this year. Basically, the beginning of the end started a long time ago. Over time, more and more people turned to Youtube as a news source. It is well on it’s way replacing TV, and news websites were none too happy to hear that. This story has happened several times in the past; Newspapers tried to defame radios when they became a news source, radio companies tried to defame television when it became a news source, and the trend continues with this story. A writer at the Washington Post broke a story that has been highly controversial for a number of reasons. It claimed that Youtube was allowing ads to be shown on videos like terrorist training videos and violent content. It’s been heavily debated whether the video in question actually did have ads or not, but the story sent shockwaves nonetheless. Advertisers started pulling out, in fear of their products and image being associated with this controversy.
Youtube is not profitable, and hasn’t been ever since Google acquired it. However, they have to carry the burden due to the site’s overwhelming popularity. Because of this, Youtube was basically forced to take a side; either defend its content creators and wait for the controversy to disappear, or appeal to advertisers over the community that made them so popular . They picked the wrong choice. Soon after this event transpired, Youtube introduced more heavily stringent policies on monetization.
The results have been ugly to say the least. A video can have all of its profitability taken away if it contains any of the following:
Sexually suggestive themes
Basically, only if your video is completely harmless and not thought provoking at all, you can receive payment for it. Those news channels I’ve referenced before almost always are covering controversial issues. Youtube already has an age restriction policy for mature content, so basically swearing in front of adults is considered problematic. Any form of art or comedy that involves sexuality is demonetized. Those Let’s Players I mentioned before often play games with some level of violence, but that isn’t going to make money anymore. And finally, hateful content. The hateful content seems to be mostly about discrimination, but it also stated that it being comedic might not be enough.
All of these rules have resulted in many prominent channels losing up to 80% of their income. Imagine how it would impact your life if your paycheck was suddenly reduced to a fifth of its original value. That’s exactly what has been happening to many of these content creators. This issue wouldn’t be as maddening as it is if it wasn’t so inconsistent. Many creators have had these giant slashes to their income, while many users get away with publishing borderline softcore porn and can make money off of it.
The future for Youtube is frankly uncertain right now. While they are no doubt still a huge website, their community might move on to a more stable platform, such as Twitch, a streaming service that is Youtube’s biggest competition. Almost all of the Youtubers I know have been using Twitch in some way, and the website’s popularity has exploded since this event happened. Either way, what will happen remains to be seen.