YouTube’s New Rules Will Kill Small Content Creators

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Today, YouTube drove the final nail into the coffin for small content creators by demonetizing any channel that does not have at least 1,000 subscribers and at least 4,000 hours of watchtime within the past 12 months. Here is the text of the email I received this morning:

Under the new eligibility requirements announced today, your YouTube channel, [Channel Name], is no longer eligible for monetization because it doesn’t meet the new threshold of 4,000 hours of watchtime within the past 12 months and 1,000 subscribers. As a result, your channel will lose access to all monetization tools and features associated with the YouTube Partner Program on February 20, 2018 unless you surpass this threshold in the next 30 days. Accordingly, this email serves as 30 days notice that your YouTube Partner Program terms are terminated.

One of YouTube’s core values is to provide anyone the opportunity to earn money from a thriving channel. Creators who haven’t yet reached this new threshold can continue to benefit from our Creator Academy, our Help Center, and all the resources on the Creator Site to grow their channels. Once your channel reaches the new threshold, it will be reviewed to make sure it adheres to our policies and guidelines, and if so, monetization will be re-enabled.

It has been clear for some time that YouTube has a specific vision for the content they want show on their service, and that vision is whatever makes advertisers happy. It has become a running joke among big-name YouTubers, particularly in the gaming realm, that you have to watch what you say or show so that your video doesn’t get demonetized. Mention a brand name? Get demonetized because other brands won’t want to advertise on the video. Swear? Yep, that’s a demonetization. Current events, politics, or anything else that might offend the delicate sensibilities of some marketing firm’s target demographic? Best just to leave it out. The result? 10,000 Logan Paul clones regurgitating the same memes and imploring you to SMASH THAT SUBSCRIBE BUTTON!

Still, sprinkled amongst the Two Minutes Hate and Ow, My Balls! that YouTube has become, you could still find quality from the small creators. The dad who shares a video of his kid singing the Imperial March, the mom who shot a video of her son receiving a letter from Lucasfilm, the kid who captured a video of his cat being ridden by a chipmunk. These are the kinds of viral videos people have always used YouTube to share with the world. All they have ever asked is that they get a cut of the massive ad revenue that their videos generate. They don’t want to start their own network, uploading at least two to three videos a week, in order to meet some arbitrary metric. They’re never going to get 1,000 subscribers. One GeekDad writer has a video with over 4 million views but only 240 subscribers. One of the driving factors of sharing these videos is the hope that it will go viral and make a bit of money. Now that YouTube has eliminated that possibility, you can expect the number of entertaining one-off videos to drastically decrease.

It’s not just the viral videos that stand to lose from the new rules, though. There are thousands of content creators out there, working hard every week to turn out videos about whatever interests them. From the fisherman in his basement tying flies, to the skater teaching new tricks, to the grandmother making knitting tutorials, these people are providing a valuable service that people are willing to watch ads to enjoy. YouTube, however, does not want these people on their service. Rather, they don’t want thousands of them, providing a variety of videos. They want a Battle Royale of content creators, each one fighting for subscribers and watchtime, until only a few remain. The problem with this model is that their algorithms favor the most mundane, inoffensive, generally-relative content creators who target their videos more towards what makes YouTube advertisers happy rather than what interests viewers. The skater who creates high quality, informative trick tutorials that only take two minutes to watch is going to lose out to the guy who fills up another eight minutes with irrelevant intros and screaming appeals to SMASH THAT SUBSCRIBE BUTTON!

The surface justification for these new rules is to reduce the number of content thieves. People grab viral videos, rehost them on their channel, and rake in the revenue. When YouTube shuts their channels down, they just create a new one. While I agree that this is a problem YouTube should address, there are better ways to go about it. They could simply require a channel be active for a few months before monetizing. Their email reveals the real reason for this change in the line, “Creators who haven’t yet reached this new threshold can continue to benefit from our Creator Academy…” This Creator Academy could be renamed, “How to Be a Good, Ad-Revenue Generating YouTube Content Creator and Keep People on YouTube.” They reward content that has cards which link to other videos so that people will remain at YouTube. They reward longer videos, so people can’t just jump out to YouTube to watch a video and jump back to what they were doing. They constantly stress, “grow[ing] and sustain[ing] a loyal audience.” YouTube does not want your videos. They want your time and effort to basically create your own television channel, and they want to pay you a mere pittance of the revenue they generate from your hard work. (And if you think they won’t still continue to demonetize the occasional advertiser-unfriendly video after you’ve reached their monetization threshold, I have an R2-D2 video to sell you.)

If you’re not interested in becoming a YouTube star, if you just want to make and share videos that you think people will enjoy, YouTube no longer has a use for you.

And frankly, I no longer have a use for them.

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