06 September 2016

Ad-Friendly, User-Enemy

Hopefully, I don't have to dump a bunch of links to get everyone up to speed on what's recently transpired on YouTube. I will, however, drop a quick summation of events so we're all on the same page. As we know, YouTube is supported through advertising revenue. Companies buy ad space in the form of banner ads, overlays, and pre-roll ads which give the option to be skipped if they're over a certain length. The revenue paid is based on something called CPM, or cost-per-thousand views (Roman numeral M). In the early days of this setup, only a select few users would be allowed in on this revenue. There was an application process, with judgment based primarily on the size of this potential partner's audience, the number of subscribers. Average views per video can count as well, but this is generally the exception. Over time, as YouTube grew, the partnership model was abandoned in favor of something more freeform; sharing in advertising revenue was an opt-in setting available to any user. Despite this freedom, the ad-revenue model came with a few provisos as to what content a channel can show. This has mostly to do with copyright, use of music, video clips, and gameplay footage, as well as product placement. Enforcement has generally been loose, with fair use doctrines keeping it that way as best they can. 
A few months ago, however, YouTube revised their terms of service to somehow be even more broad yet more restrictive. Now, copyrighted material was secondary to the overall nature of a channel's content. To that end, channels deemed "not advertiser friendly" would be stripped of their monetization. No one seemed to notice this change until about a week ago when YouTube personality Phil DeFranco posted about a dozen or so of his videos being demonetized virtually overnight, and with seemingly no appeals process. 

Naturally, this has led to people announcing the proverbial death of YouTube, which seems to crop up anytime anyone anywhere says "YouTube" and "money" within two full sentences of one another. It's a plethora of various concerned parties all talking past one another, but we'll try to compartmentalize the cacophony for clarity's cake.... sake. First and foremost, there's YouTube itself, a subdivision of Google that costs billions of dollars to maintain, yet offers little more than a hole in Google's pockets for their trouble. The act of hosting videos on servers made available to stream at will to anyone in the world consumes a massive chunk of change and as far as most viewers go, this costs them nothing out of pocket. Next, you've got the content creators, who seem to come in two distinct flavors and even bring two very different audiences with them. Here's the most concise way to put it: if I go to YouTube right now, without logging into my Google account, and browse the front page for trending videos, the ones that seem to get the most circulation, views, comments, and overall traffic, tend to come from content producers who frankly don't need the ad revenue, like CNN or ABC or some larger corporate entity who's using YouTube to supplement their other venues like TV, radio, and even print. If I log in, however, my browsing is a little more... inclusive. This is mostly due to interests in things like gaming, 3D printing, obscure movies, etc., generally the stuff which flies under the radar of the bigger guys. When looking at YouTube through these ruby-tinted goggles, it seems like a fantasy world, where John Q. Average-Guy can set up a webcam and have an audience of thousands upon thousands entirely by virtue of being himself. While I don't think this concept is a total fantasy, and I'll certainly never let it stop me from making it a reality, we have to face the current reality head-on. 

Film critic Bob Chipman said this of comic book geeks and I think it holds true for the overall dynamic of YouTube's audience. Die-hard fans of comics, games, and old toys get a lot of attention from Hollywood, as evidenced by their presence at conventions and similar events. However, beyond that, the sum total of these super-geeks do not represent even 1% of the average film-going audience. Michael Bay's Transformers is not made for people like me who grew up with the cartoon and never totally outgrew it. They're made for everybody. Now, why that seems to mean the franchise in question has to be watered-down, homogenized, or retooled from the ground up is another discussion entirely that we won't get into. The point is, however big these smaller channels like Armoured Skeptic, Boogie2988, Tested, and MrRepzion get, however many views their videos pile up, they do not have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Team CoCo, Electronic Arts, BBC, or Viacom. Prove me wrong, please, but it's more night and day than David and Goliath between these two sides of the coin. It's at this point that content creators need to step up their game, assess their plan, weigh the pros and cons, brainstorm, and make some incredibly difficult, executive-level decisions about why they're doing what they're doing. None of these decisions are wrong, whether it's walking away or kicking in the afterburners, but choosing not to decide is not making a choice (sorry, Rush). 

If you're relying exclusively on advertising revenue from YouTube to support yourself, you are setting yourself up to fail, you will fail, and no one will ever feel the least bit sorry for you over it. I hate being the guy to say that; I never want to stand between someone and their honest living, let alone kick them when they're knocked down from it. The sad reality is this is the big leagues, where the pros play, the wild west, where angels fear to tread. When you make a public figure of yourself, even as an iconoclast/vigilante/anarchist/pundit/pirate/whistleblower, you become a brand, a service, and even a product. You adopt an identity, a character, even if it's only a distillation of yourself. That identity becomes your life, and it's up to you to control who lives it and when. 

What am I saying with all of this? What's my solution to this problem? It's simultaneously simple and complicated, so try and keep up. 

You need to give yourself as many options as possible and pass as many of those options on to your audience as possible. Can your videos only be seen on YouTube or do you also embed them on a Wordpress or Blogger page? Do you have a Patreon? Do you sell merchandise through Etsy, Redbubble, or eBay? Do you have a Paypal, Ko-Fi, or even Amazon wishlist set up? Basically, whatever it is you're doing, you have to do more of it, and you need to give your audience as many ways to show their support as possible. People aren't unreasonable, and while many are greedy, plenty are more than understanding enough that the entertainment they consume is the result of someone else's time and energy, which is only fair to compensate in some way. The web is a great big toolbox, and there's no reason to only use a hammer to build a house. 

Goodnight, and good luck. 
Post a Comment