About a year ago, I started taking YouTube seriously as a social media platform. I am still kicking myself for letting it take so long.
Perhaps like many of you, I thought that YouTube was primarily a place to host video content that was then shared across the internet via other social media platforms. Like Vimeo, for instance.
I was dead wrong.
YouTube is not a simply website to host video so that it might be shared on other social media platforms. YouTube is the video-based social media platform. It is defined by its creator community and has its own culture, with a heavy helping of “drama” to go along with it.
YouTube is owned by Google (Alphabet) and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, YouTube’s best days are ahead of it because of the pervasiveness of it among children as young as two or three years old.
But, YouTube has a serious problem.
YouTube’s Two-Master Problem
YouTube is in a difficult position. It has to please two very important groups of people who often have very different priorities.
YouTube has to please advertisers because advertisers are what generates its revenue.
YouTube has to please creators because creators give the advertisers entertaining content in which they advertise.
The problem is that YouTube has to serve both of these masters, and these masters often pull the platform in opposite directions.
Earlier this year, there was a mass exodus of advertisers from YouTube when advertisers like Pepsi, Walmart, and other huge companies left the platform after learning that their ads were being served with violent, often terroristic YouTube videos.
Because of this backlash from advertisers, YouTube was pressured to tighten their algorithms and be more restrictive about what content was allowed to be monetized (meaning make money from ads) and what content wasn’t.
Here’s the problem: YouTube creators are known for creating pretty raw content.
Most of the popular YouTubers in the world are pretty vulgar. It’s sort of annoying, actually.
So, because of this, a lot of major YouTubers who make their livings off of YouTube have been forced to make money elsewhere (through Patreon or other places) because the steady stream of YouTube ad revenue they once harvested has been taken away.
This all may seem reasonable to you as you consider YouTube has to keep its advertisers happy in order to stay in business.
But, what I haven’t told you yet is that YouTube is terrible at communicating with its creators and no one knew their ad revenue was going to stop drying up until one day, it just did.
Some of the most popular YouTubers in the world who were making thousands of dollars (and more, in some cases) per video suddenly were not being paid for the content they were creating even though their content didn’t change.
This is a problem for YouTube because they need their creators as much as they need their advertisers. If you don’t have creators that millions of people watch every day, the value of the ads you’re trying to sell advertisers decreases.
Since the initial adpocalypse of earlier this year YouTube has improved its communication with its creators, albeit very little, and has vowed to do so moving forward.
But YouTube’s relationship with its creators has been strained more recently because of an example of blatant favoritism.
YouTube’s Apparent Favoritism
Casey Neistat is one of the most popular YouTubers in the world. He is often looked at by other YouTubers as “the darling of YouTube” because, in the past, it seems the company has done everything in its power to promote his content over and above other peoples’ content.
His content is not as raw or vulgar as some other top YouTubers, and he is an incredibly gifted and creative filmmaker. He isn’t just a irreverent goofball or a well-spoken pretty face in front of a screen, like many other popular YouTubers.
Following the October 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Neistat posted this video:
Neistat set up a GoFundMe for the victims of the attack and vowed to give all of the money he made from ad revenue on the video to them as well.
The problem was this: one of the ways you can be de-monitized by YouTube is by featuring “violent” content in your videos. Well, Neistat’s video was flagged by YouTube’s AI as containing violent content, and the video was de-monitized, thus, raising no money for charity.
Neistat had no clips of the attack, no images, and no graphic descriptions of violence. Yet the darling of YouTube had his charity video de-monitized. When he tweeted the company, they responded:
They don’t run ads on videos about tragedies?
Not so fast.
It seems YouTube felt it appropriate to run ads against Jimmy Kimmel’s video in which he talked about the shooting for twice as long as Neistat.
Popular YouTuber Philip DeFranco, said in typical raw fashion (sorry for the language):
Your response is bullshit. It's not true. People are tired this. Be better. pic.twitter.com/XWh6eMVQWG
— Philip DeFranco (@PhillyD) October 6, 2017
YouTubers have felt for a long time that the company favors late night television hosts and other more “traditional” channels than their own content, despite the fact that YouTube could not exist without the millions of creators that don’t have television shows.
YouTube has a problem. DeFranco is spot on. I don’t know what the solution is. They have to serve two masters, and it seems clear that they are favoring one over the other.
What remains to be seen is if they can maintain such favoritism.