YouTube has recently made some changes that directly affect me and my channel, as well as thousands of other small creators. I made a quick video (above) outlining the changes, which I also summarize below, but I wanted to write this article to dive into the topic in a bit more detail. I’ve seen a lot of articles explaining why these changes won’t actually hurt YouTubers, and I want to argue that some people, including myself, are a forgotten minority.
How did we get to here?
Over the past year, YouTube has been having some problems making both advertisers and content creators happy. YouTube is trying to grow up. It’s been increasing its focus on YouTube Red (a monthly subscription service a la Netflix give provides original series and ad-free viewing) and really trying to make itself a viable competitor to services such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, or even cable TV. While this might sound ridiculous to anyone over the age of 20, it’s really not so crazy. Younger people spend all their time on YouTube. It is TV for them.
Many YouTube celebrities are making millions of dollars. They do this by being a part of the YouTube Partner Program, which allows YouTube to run ads against those videos and then share the profits with the creators. But this can get tricky, because some content creators are more “advertiser friendly” than others.
As an extreme example, no advertiser wants to have an ad run against a video promoting terrorism. That’s obvious. But drawing the line between what is and isn’t advertiser friendly is a little hazier. What about a news-style channel that’s covering a terrorist act?
This past year, there was a mass advertiser exodus from YouTube, an event dubbed Adpocolypse. In order to woo these advertisers back, YouTube became more strict with what content they would allow to be monetized. Since there’s so much content uploaded to YouTube every day, they created a computer algorithm to either allow or disable monetization of new content.
The end result, however, was an overabundance of demonetization. YouTube erred on the side of just disabling monetization on videos. Even really big and popular YouTubers had entire back catalogues of videos demonetized. And their new, instantly popular new videos were being demonetized at peak popularity, meaning creators were not getting paid for thousands or millions of views even if the content creator was able to re-enable monetization later by fighting the ruling.
So, that’s basically where we were before this latest change. Advertisers want a guarantee that their ads will not be run against any content deemed offensive. And content creators, especially ones who do this for a living, don’t want to be demonetized. The biggest problem with executing a plan that makes everyone happy, according to YouTube, is that it’s physically impossible to manually review all new content that’s uploaded to Youtube.
YouTube raising the minimum for small creators
This brings us to YouTube’s latest rule change. In the past, content creators could join the YouTube Partner Program and begin monetizing their videos once their entire channel reached 10,000 views. This prevents really new, or really spammy, YouTube channels from creating garbage content and monetizing it.
Overall, people tended to agree that this threshold was fair. It took some work to reach 10,000 views, but it was an achievable goalpost for most people.
A few days ago, many smaller content creators got an email about YouTube’s change. The threshold for monetizing videos would be 4,000 hours of views in the past 12 months, and 1,000 subscribers.
If your channel is not at that minimum, everything on you channel will be demonetized by February 20th. YouTube will stop running ads against your content, and you’ll stop making any money ad revenue off your content.
In a blog post outlining these changes, YouTube claims (emphasis mine):
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.
Looking at those statistics, it’s hard to argue against these changes. But, as a content creator who falls into that one percent (I made roughly $600 from ad revenue last year, but am being demonetized with these changes), it’s hard to understand why there can’t be exceptions to this rule.
The One Percent
There is one category of YouTube content creators that’s being hit unfairly with these changes, and I believe that it’s a category that’s extremely important to YouTube: Educational and How To videos.
At the time that this notification went out, my channel had roughly 800 subscribers, roughly 200 below the new threshold. However, my view hours in 2017 were 4,192. The top video on my channel, a tutorial for uploading a theme to WordPress, has over 108,000 views and over 200 comments.
Obviously, this video has been useful to a large number of people. This video, and a few others, make up the bulk of the 4,192 hours of view time on my channel last year. But, for many of these people, there’s no need to subscribe to my channel for additional content.
How To videos are usually found through Google or YouTube search. They solve a problem in real time, and then people can be on their way. They’re extremely helpful, but are forgotten by these new YouTube benchmarks.
I think that the availability of this kind of helpful niche content is the very soul of YouTube. I can’t count the number of times I’ve turned to YouTube when I’ve wanted to know how to do something, and found some obscure video that solved the problem. The video was almost never created by one of the “big guys.”
There has to be some way to keep these types of creators incentivized. Some of the most useful videos on YouTube are from smaller content creators who aren’t regularly updating (and thus not building a huge following).
Why the money is important
A year ago, at the close of 2016, I had earned a meager $60 from my YouTube channel. It made me happy that I posted useful videos that was helping people, but those numbers didn’t really drive me to create new content. In 2017, I posted just one new video.
But at the end of 2017, as I was looking over stats and numbers from all my online content for this past year, I realized (much to my surprise) that my YouTube channel balance was nearly $1,000. I didn’t realize I had made so much money because I hadn’t even properly verified my bank account in order to accept payouts, since I wasn’t even close to the payout threshold.
The discovery of these funds made me realize that I really needed to put more focus on YouTube content in 2018. One of my goals for this new year is to create at least one new video per month. For video topics, I planned to dive into the commonly-asked questions on my current videos, in an attempt to help even more people.
And then came YouTube’s change announcement on January 16th. Despite having a helpful library of videos, and earning a hundreds of dollars per year from ad revenue, I was being demonetized.
As of right now, things are looking good for me in terms of hitting this new subscriber count threshold. I was at 800 subscribers when I first got the announcement, and I’ve been able to bump that number up to 937 as of this article’s publication. However, I know that there must be other channels that are in a similar situation as me. And demonetizing all their existing content is a great way to remove the motivation for creating new content.
How YouTube can fix this
While I do believe that this new threshold is a bit high, I understand YouTube’s perspective on this change. It will allow the company to provide better support for creators in the YouTube Partner Program by limiting the amount of content that needs to be screened for monetization. It will also help declutter certain categories of videos, as it will be a lot more difficult for spammy channels to get paid for filling the site up with junk.
But, as with the Adpocolypse, I think the biggest problem here is communication and support. For content creators who do fall into that one percent (making hundreds of dollars a year but still being demonetized), I think there should be some sort of manual override process. Allowing this one percent of users affected by this change to appeal the demonetization decision would be a great way to show continued support for the smaller creators who make the site great.
If a content creator’s videos are getting thousands of hours of views, and have lively comment sections, there should be some way to have a human review the channel and possibly make an exception.
There have been several new policy changes that YouTube has implemented throughout this past year, and each time it has alienated a large number of content creators, both big and small. I feel like several YouTubers are ready to jump to the first viable competitor. Let’s say some big company, like an Amazon, releases its own video streaming site with a monetization model similar to YouTube’s. Why would anyone stay on a site that doesn’t seem to care about messing with creator’s paychecks without proper communication or transparency? There are already smaller guys nipping at YouTube’s heels (i.e. Steemit, Brave).
YouTube is struggling to find the balance between keeping content creators happy and remaining marketable to advertisers. As of now, it seems to be pissing off everyone.