YouTube Walks A Tightrope

I watch YouTube. A lot. It is the best video channel anywhere. So the recent YouTube controversy over advertisers sponsoring “extremist” videos on YouTube hardly surprised me. As you probably know by now, such advertisers as PepsiCo, Walmart, Starbucks, General Motors, FX Networks and Johnson & Johnson — not to mention Verizon and AT&T — are currently suspending their YouTube campaigns, although many are still sponsoring search on Google.

Now Google says it will try to fix the problem by giving advertisers more control over their ad placement on YouTube and will put out more of an effort to police their videos, perhaps banning ads from a wider group of subject matter.

That was last week. So how are they doing so far?

I spent serious time trolling YouTube, without an ad blocker, to test just how selective YouTube is as of this week. And, well, it appears to be a work in progress.



I spent some grisly moments with Syria war videos, placed by various factions in the conflict. To Google’s credit, I couldn’t find any that had ads at all. Certainly, I don’t think AT&T is exactly eager to sponsor the live execution of an ISIS stooge on video. There are dozens and dozens of videos like that on YouTube, scarier than any horror film. None carry ads that I saw. Though a Google Home spot did appear on a BBC video, “Islamic State: Inside ‘brutal’ heartland in Mosul.”

But move into the subject of controversial social issues, and things change.

I moved toward the witty Milo Yiannopoulous’ YouTube channel. As you should know by now, Yiannopoulous lost his book contract with Simon & Schuster recently for seeming to speak approvingly of pedophilia (he says his comments were misconstrued). Despite the controversy, Yiannopoulous is very popular on YouTube and he hardly lacks for sponsors. If the New York Times is correct in claiming that the President’s diatribes against the paper have helped subscriptions, Milo’s recent issues may have helped him on YouTube. His videos get millions of views. One I saw on his channel was sponsored by First Response, Trivago and Rooms To Go. The Trivago hotel search ad was in Dutch for some reason.

Interestingly, or ecumenically, I should say, Trivago ads also sponsor extreme leftist Noam Chomsky’s videos on YouTube and his diatribes against President Donald Trump. So that makes Trivago, or its agency, even handed, I would conclude.

Caitlyn Jenner brought transgender persons into the mainstream, sort of, and she had a TV show, so perhaps it’s not surprising that a video titled “Caitlyn Jenner tells Donald Trump to call her over Bathroom Reversal,” which manages to involve two controversial subjects, gets sponsor support from Kindle Most Wanted (the Amazon community for crime fiction fans) and a book by Patricia Cornwell, Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert. But was it optimum placement? You decide.

I also took a look at a partisan conservative video, of which there are thousands on YouTube. One I enjoyed was, “Watch Rachel Maddow get that stupid smirk off her face by Trump’s election.” Partisan? Sure, but it has had 3.5 million views. Which may explain sponsoring it when I looked in Monday.

And a video called “The Donald Trump video every Jew must watch!” which makes the case for Jews supporting President Trump, found support from the ubiquitous Now it could be that a video with 1.2 million views is enough for CarGurus, but perhaps not. Is it even aware of where its ads go?

I saw an openly anti-Semitic video, touting the “Jew World Order” —“extremist” content for sure — and nobody was sponsoring that. Thank goodness.

Far be it from me to criticize either YouTube or Google. Perhaps you are not aware of just how much video is on YouTube. Two years ago, it was estimated that there were more than one billion videos on the channel. People upload something like 300,000 videos a day, more than 400 million videos a year. One estimate had it that it would take 60,000 years of non-stop viewing to watch all the stuff on YouTube, and that was two years ago. Are you going to tell me that any conglomeration of people and algorithms, no matter how sophisticated, can be 100% successful, never getting ad placement wrong? I doubt it.

YouTube is an incredible outlet, and no matter how many advertisers boycott it, it’s not going to change. Not when videos like the Korean rapper’s PSY-Gangnam Style now have almost 3 billion views. I would venture to say that no TV program in the history of the medium has gotten that much viewership yet. And ads go where the viewers are.

4 comments about "YouTube Walks A Tightrope".
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  1. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel, March 29, 2017 at 1:03 p.m.

    Youtube is the embodiment of the disappearnce of civility and concer for a he old days advertisers were concerned about where their advertising was placed... today it just don't matter...the new guys at the agencies have convinced their clients that bulk impressions are what counts..not because they really believe that, but its the way media departments can make money...I saw and ad the other day on the Times Of Israel touting oyster recipies...the web is just too big for media types to earn their keep... for 15 years we have been touting searching and advertising in "Focused Content Channel" that contain 100% safe and relevant editorial that can easily be watched and vetted. Here is a link to our rant....

  2. John Motavalli from Freelance, March 30, 2017 at 9:03 a.m.

    Sure, but there is a lot of great stuff on YouTube as well. I sympathize with the task they are faced with, as I noted.

  3. Sarah Welch from CarGurus, April 6, 2017 at 12:55 p.m.

    Speaking for CarGurus, we in no way endorse or want our brand associated with this type of content. We have had a number of controls in place since we began running on the YouTube platform and have been actively reviewing and tightening our restrictions in the past weeks as their exclusion capabilities/limitations have been exposed and enhanced. I do not envy YouTube the challenge of supporting free speech in user-generated content while protecting advertiser reputations, but it's clear there are gaps in their policies that need ongoing attention.

  4. John Motavalli from Freelance, April 7, 2017 at 5:41 a.m.

    Right, Sarah, I take your point. Advertisers hardly want to be associated with extremist views of any stripe, and, as our story makes clear, they still are on YouTube.

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