Have you noticed how much longer your favourite vlogger’s videos are getting or why nothing happens until the 10-minute mark in BuzzFeed videos?
“2017 marked a tough year for many of you”. These were the first words of an email that thousands of YouTube content creators woke up to on Tuesday, January 16 of this year. The email came from YouTube headquarters and laid the land for some pretty significant changes to the streaming site’s monetization strategy, the YouTube Partner Program (YPP).
“Under strict criteria”
Instead of the 10,000 cumulative views creators previously needed to start earning revenue from advertisers, the new qualifications will now require a total of 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 cumulative hours of watch time over the course of the last 12 months. YPP members will be evaluated “under strict criteria” through a combination of YouTube’s existing algorithms, as well as 10,000 human moderators responsible for weeding through the interminable hours of videos on the site. But are these changes as bad as people are making them out to be?
The most popular opinion out there right now is the collective outcry and backlash from smaller creators who have previously been a part of YPP, but are now being demonetized because they don’t meet the new regulations. These micro-influencers have been very quick to blame these changes on popular creators such as Logan Paul and Pewdiepie.
The YouTube divide
For many years now, there has been a notable divide between smaller channels and members of Google Preferred, which “aggregates YouTube’s top content, such as Michelle Phan and Good Mythical Morning, into easy-to-buy packages for brand advertisers.” With Logan Paul’s “dead body” incident and Pewdiepie being accused of racist comments, there’s been a lot of speculation around how YouTube is and should be regulated. While big creators aren’t facing overall demonetization like many small channels, they will be under intense scrutiny over what content they’re putting out and which videos can play ads.
As for the small creators uploading angry rants across YouTube right now – they have every right to express their opinions and put their content out there. That’s what YouTube was all about in the beginning – free speech. While many would argue this has changed since they started filtering out particularly “graphic or violent” content, I think small creators are forgetting that demonetization does not mean they can’t still post on YouTube. As stated in the letter: “Though these changes will affect a significant number of channels, 99% of those affected were making less than $100 per year in the last year, with 90% earning less than $2.50 in the last month. Any of the channels who no longer meet this threshold will be paid what they’ve already earned based on our AdSense policies.” Many of these small creators criminalizing YouTube for robbing them are barely making enough to pay for their morning coffee, but are making it seem as if demonetizing their videos will drive them into poverty.
A positive spin
Creators like Erik Kain who wrote an article about his channel for Forbes, and TheSwoleNurse both previously qualified for YPP but doesn’t necessarily meet the 4,000 hours needed for monetization. They’re thinking positively about the new changes as they are currently making next to nothing from their channels anyway. They are considering YouTube as more of a hobby than a profession but are still excited to continue putting out content. They believe that if YouTubers want commercial success, they’re just going to have to work harder to upload more quality content.
In my mind, it’s simple: as YouTube grows, so should its standards and eligibility for monetization. Yes, this is a huge change, but one that everyone should have seen coming after a year of controversy. In addition to all the scandals, thousands of YouTubers’ confirmation to join YPP have been on hold after reaching their 10,000 views, the reasoning behind the hold obviously being YouTube’s plans to change their requirements in the new year. But as YouTube confirmed in their statement, these creators will be paid exactly what they’ve earned over the last couple of months.
Now, I can see both sides. As someone who wants to create video content in the future, I feel for creators, but I also believe it’s important to be aware of the business side to everything. If you are in the YouTube game to make money, then cater your content to YouTube’s ad friendly guidelines; if not, then continue making whatever kind of content you want and search for alternative streams of cash flow like Patreon, Indiegogo or Kickstarter, which are becoming increasingly relevant.
Getting down to brass tacks: if your content is as good as you think it is then your subscribers will let you know by paying you to create it. When you think about it, YouTube imposing stricter qualifications is a very logical shift to their advertising pay structure. Brands don’t want to be associated with certain content and that’s completely in their right. If you are a small or large company paying a substantial amount of money to advertise on YouTube and your ads are placed on videos with extensive swearing, sexual content or even racist remarks, you absolutely do not want this kind of content associated with your brand image.
The watch time metric
While I am completely on board with YouTube’s new YPP benchmark in terms of the 1,000 subscribers requirement and manually monitoring content that makes sense for advertisers, the watch time is my only concern -- primarily because it’s a brand new metric that can be difficult for creators to improve on. It’s not just a matter of marketing yourself to get subscribers once you’re past the benchmark, and it’s not about clickbait or viral videos -- which could be a good thing in terms of making YouTube less irritating – it’s the additional “watch time” that worries me.
What do creators do to increase watch time? Make longer videos? Work harder to keep viewers engaged in general? This move wasn’t done to help individual creators and advertisers, it was done to help YouTube and YouTube only.
On their Creators Academy website in a lesson entitled “YouTube metrics that matter”, it reads: “Your content benefits when it leads viewers to spend more time watching videos — not just on your channel, but anywhere on YouTube.” Herein lies the biggest reveal. The majority of recent changes in YouTube’s strategy are done solely to keep users on the platform as long as possible, away from its online competitors like Twitch, Facebook, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon etc.
So if you’ve noticed how much longer your favourite vlogger’s videos are getting or why nothing happens until the 10-minute mark in BuzzFeed videos, new watch time metrics are the reason behind it all. I remember when the older generation believed us millennials wouldn’t be able to keep our attention on anything for more than a few seconds, but now the trend is longer videos and longer ads.
The main thing that bothers me now is how YouTube frames their actions as helping creators with phrases like: “to protect our community”; “protecting our creator community”; and the most cliché of all, “we’re confident the steps we’re taking today will help protect and grow our inspiring community”. Is it just me or do they sound like a broken record?
A step in the right direction?
So yes, we can tear into and analyze YouTube’s email to death, but that offers no solution. It’s simply complaining and adding to the problem. YouTube has made some pretty questionable decisions in the last couple of years with YouTube Kids incidents, filtering out LGBT content and questionable algorithm changes. For the first time in a very long time, this could actually be a step in the right direction for YouTube.