YouTube is facing significant backlash over changes to the YouTube Partner Program, but really, what choice did it have? Try as it might to provide to a safe tier for major brand advertisers, its partners keep trying to burn the house down.
Following YouTube’s latest headline-making flare-up (the Logan Paul incident, which everyone has read about by now), YouTube had no choice but to crack down severely on which channels can earn money from ads. In order to qualify for monetization, a channel now needs to have accrued 4,000 hours of watchtime in the past 12 months, and have 1,000 subscribers. The goal, wrote YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan and chief business officer Robert Kyncl in a blog post, is to keep “bad actors” from poisoning the whole ecosystem and jeopardizing everyone’s livelihood.
The new rules go into effect on February 20, and channels that don’t have the numbers won’t be able to make money from YouTube ads. Newly qualifying channels will be given a thorough evaluation before they’re allowed to run ads. YouTube will also look at community strikes, spam, and other “abuse flags” when deciding what channels to admit. It’s unclear whether or not these actions would have prevented Paul’s problem video from appearing, but YouTube had to do something to reassure brands.
While creators aren’t happy with the changes and YouTube risks a backlash, brands should be thrilled with the new safety measures.
“We observe that more brand name national advertisers are increasingly moving into Google Preferred inventory,” says Todd Krizelman, CEO and co-founder of MediaRadar. “This more curated inventory is all well above the new thresholds. The new floor, however, is a good decision. After all, websites with the most unsavory content typically have very few followers or videos. This is a pragmatic way to eliminate the likelihood of an advertiser running somewhere they really don’t want to be.”
What this all means for creators depends on how popular they are. Big channels in good standing will likely get even more high-value advertisers, as YouTube’s brand-safe tier is shrinking. But small channels will be cut out and viral video creators can no longer make quick profits from a hot clip.
“The newly-instituted thresholds have the potential to redefine certain genres of content on the platform, notably the viral clip business,” explains YouTube star and video marketing consultant Matthew Patrick. “In the past, a channel with no history of uploading YouTube videos could quickly earn thousands of dollars off a video that caught fire, like this classic clip of a selfie gone wrong. Companies like Jukin Media could reach out to the owners of clips going viral with the short-term value of helping them quickly flip the appropriate monetization levers to capitalize on the sudden influx of views.
“However, the requirement of a channel possessing an existing amount of subscribers and watch minutes means that this instant viral fame is a thing of the past. Long story short, this move continues the devaluation of viral one-off clips even more, further pushing YouTube into a place of ‘shows,’ ‘formats,’ and premium content, and further away from the viral cat videos that were synonymous with the platform in its early days.”
Some genres will be more impacted by this than others, Patrick says. Creators making expensive and time-consuming animation or scripted comedy videos will struggle to generate enough views. And people who watch beauty or kid videos are less likely to subscribe, making it harder for those creators to get consistent views.
While the change is sure to frighten many creators and could lead to YouTube feeling a backlash or creator exodus, Patrick notes that YouTube is still the only site that shares ad revenue with its users. “It’s easy for people to forget that monetization on YouTube is a privilege, not a right,” Patrick says.