The largest controversy YouTube has ever faced is arguably happening right now. On Tuesday, a shooter opened fired on the company’s San Bruno offices. Authorities have since speculated that the incident may be related to YouTube demonetization, an issue that’s been brewing for years.
In December 2017, the platform suffered a huge PR disaster when one of its top influencers, Logan Paul, posted a video featuring a human corpse. In response, YouTube rolled out its new demonetization policy. As a result, increasingly more channels are precluded from earning ad revenue on the platform with many popular channels affected, too.
The past few days may mark the first time the public has heard the terms ‘monetization’ and ‘demonetization’ in YouTube’s context. However, the issue of demonetization has been an ongoing battle within the influencer industry dating as far back as the mid-2000s. Here we’ll examine the new YouTube demonetization policy, its history with content creators, and its ramifications.
Like many other social media platforms, YouTube added advertising to turn its free service into a profitable business. Most simply, YouTube monetization is one way YouTubers make money by having advertisement run on their channel’s videos. Advertisers pay YouTube to display their advertisements before, during, or after creator videos. In turn, YouTube pays creators a cut of the revenue generated by running ads on their video.
Not all creators are eligible for content monetization. To qualify for video monetization a creator must enroll in YouTube’s Partner Program and his/her content must meet its community guidelines and advertiser policies.
Demonetization refers to changes made to YouTube’s monetization policy that result in 1) fewer channels qualifying for its Partner Program and subsequently earning ad revenue and 2) a selection of channels earning less ad revenue because their videos are deemed inappropriate for advertising.
YouTube’s most recent demonetization effort has made it harder for newer and smaller YouTube channels to qualify for its Partner Program. As of February, influencers now need 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of video views within the last 12 months to qualify for the program. As a result, some channels who used to earn ad revenue have lost their ability to make money on the platform. In addition, channels that meet and exceed the new view count and subscriber requirements to qualify for monetization may also be making less money due to YouTube’s more restrictive definition of ad-friendly content.
The issue of YouTube demonization came to a head on April 3, 2018 when a shooter attacked the San Bruno offices. It’s since been discovered that the perpetrator was a YouTuber herself and had previously expressed dissatisfaction with the platform’s new demonetization policies.
Though YouTube’s recent demonetization is significant news, YouTube has adjusted its monetization policy several times in the past. Here we’ll outline its long demonetization controversy and history.
August 2016: YouTube demonetization becomes a publicized issue for the first time when several popular influencers are demonetized for failing to meet its ad-friendly content guidelines. Though YouTube’s website doesn’t document specific guideline changes enacted in August 2016, several influencers report that their videos have been demonetized.
News YouTuber Philip DeFranco announces on August 31 that one his videos was demonetized because it contains graphic content and excessively strong language. On the same day, 12 more of his videos are demonetized.
April 2017: On April 6, YouTube announces a new 10,000-lifetime video view requirement for its Partner Program. Effective April 6, a YouTube channel needs to amass a minimum of 10,000 video views to qualify for advertising. The change demonetizes any YouTube channel with less than 10,000 total video views.
February 2017: An investigation by The Times discovers that major brand advertisements have played before inappropriate and offensive YouTube videos. Over 250 brands among the likes of Audi, Verizon, and Starbucks pull their advertisements from the platform.
March 2017: YouTube responds to advertiser dissatisfaction by updating its monetization algorithm and implementing stricter video monetization guidelines. In a statement, the company expresses a commitment to ensuring advertisements only appear alongside advertising friendly videos.
October – November 2017: Top YouTubers Casey Neistat and Justine Ezarik report that they’ve suffered from demonetization. Both express frustration concerning the monetization algorithm’s accuracy and voice complaints that it jeopardizes their ability to make a living on the platform.
August 2017: YouTube announces the introduction of monetization icons and a new appeals policy, both meant to give creators a better sense of why a video is monetized or demonetized.
Three icons were introduced:
October 2017: Casey Neistat publishes a video in an effort to raise donations for victims of the Las Vegas shooting, promising to donate all ad revenue made through monetization to the cause.
Three days later, Neistat tweets that the video has been demonetized, sparking controversy. The issue is further exasperated when YouTube community members notice that a Jimmy Kimmel Live video addressing the shooting is running with advertisements.
December 2017: On December 4, YouTube reveals plans to hire significantly more human reviewers to evaluate videos on the platform and rid it of violent and extremist content. In a blog post, its CEO Susan Wojcicki shares the goal of amassing upwards of 10,000 employees during 2018 to evaluate content on the platform.
December 2017 – February 2018: On December 21 popular YouTuber Logan Paul posts a video featuring a human corpse, resulting in an uproar across the web. YouTube responds by pulling Paul from Google Preferred, an ad revenue program exclusively for the platform’s most popular channels (top 5%). In addition, advertisements are temporarily suspended from Paul’s videos. In the time since ads have returned to Paul’s videos.
April 3, 2018: On April 4, 2018, a shooter open fired on YouTube’s San Bruno headquarters, injuring three people. In the days following, authorities have discovered that the shooter herself was a YouTube content creator and micro-influencer with several accounts across YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram who had previously expressed dissatisfaction with YouTube demonetization.
In response to the Logan Paul Fiasco, YouTube announced its biggest demonetization change on January 16, 2018. Effective February 20, a YouTube channel must have 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of video views within the last 12 months to qualify for its Partner Program. Once an influencer reaches the new subscriber and view count threshold his/her videos are evaluated for ad-appropriateness. If deemed to meet YouTube’s community guidelines and advertiser policies ads will appear alongside individual videos.
In the wake demonetization, many smaller YouTube influencers have come forth and said that the new ad restrictions hurt smaller channels instead of penalizing bad actors like Paul. In its official announcement, YouTube accentuated that, “…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.” Nevertheless, many are outraged on the basis of principal and feel that it deters budding creators from making videos.
In comparison to its new Partner Program requirement, YouTube’s stricter guidelines for ad-friendly content have been implemented more discreetly. Influencers who produce content about mental health, LGBT issues, and disability, in particular, have reported that their content has been demonetized. Overwhelmingly, the demonization of videos on the basis of content and subject matter has been characterized as a new form of censorship.
Some have said that YouTube’s newest demonetization changes are understandable because if the platform loses the trust of advertisers it loses its ability to make money. One way to limit problematic ad placement is to limit the number of YouTube channels eligible to show ads. Another is to introduce stricter definitions of ad-friendly content.
The demonetization issues on YouTube affect the influencer marketing industry by reducing incentives for influencers to create content and making it more difficult for them to sustain their careers.
As a key element of many brands’ marketing strategies, YouTube influencers provide an enormous amount of value to the industry. There are several ways YouTubers can make money — one of them is through ad revenue share. If YouTube’s demonetization policy continues to adversely affect YouTubers’ ability to monetize through ad revenue, YouTubers will seek out other revenue opportunities including YouTube video sponsorships with brands.