Over the past two weeks, YouTube has been the topic of conversation, especially around advertising boycotts. According toThe Wall Street Journal, major brands like PepsiCo, Walmart, Dish Network, Starbucks, and General Motors have pulled all Google advertising (with the exception of targeted search ads) from YouTube after their pre-roll ads appeared alongside videos of hate speech.
Unfortunately for YouTube, this isn’t the first time the video-sharing service has been in this sort of spotlight. In February, YouTube pulled PewDiePie from its advertising platform after anti-semitic videos were posted to his account, and in March, high-profile members of the LGBT community protested YouTube’s handling of their videos, which were either hidden from the platform or filtered as restricted for adult content.
While these are serious issues for YouTube, in the end, it will be a good thing for those creating videos and uploading them to the platform.
The current state of content creators and their YouTube videos.
YouTube treats content as an asset that simply generates “watch time.” The better your video “performs” (reactions, comments, views, retention, etc.), the more valuable it becomes to Google in regard to placing advertisements.
But from a content standpoint, almost all videos on YouTube are treated equally—it doesn’t matter if a video is pirated, if it’s pornographic, or if it’s the best damn video on the internet—these videos are just a commodity alongside which the platform can run advertising. Case in point: YouTube just announced it will now block ads on channels with under 10,000 views—the platform is still sorting its channels by size, not by quality.
Unfortunately, this setup forces creators into doing a number of things which are not necessarily good for advertisers or viewers:
While the current system may be fine for high-volume, direct-response advertisers, it just doesn’t work for brands. To brand advertisers, content is not a commodity. Context matters! Brands want to be associated with the best, most relevant content out there.
In 2014, YouTube launched Google Preferred, a way to allow advertisers to reserve inventory from among the top 5% of YouTube’s most engaging and brand-safe content. This all sounds great but, in reality, Google Preferred only looks for YouTube’s biggest channels to take off the open market, rather than the best channels. It’s a way to charge more for the same product by simply placing the content in a new bucket.
If YouTube is going to persist as a major advertising platform and continue to serve the world’s biggest brands, it needs to care deeply about the quality of the content, because it’s advertisers certainly do.
Why the boycotts are a good thing
These recent boycotts will push YouTube to properly separate “good” content from everything else, which is great news for content creators. Although this is a much harder technical problem to solve, especially because spammers will work relentlessly to reverse engineer any algorithm, it’s the one that will pay the largest dividends for Google.
If YouTube is properly sorting content by quality, CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) will diverge across channels, enabling the platform to charge significantly higher CPMs for the best content—which is absolutely essential if YouTube intends to compete with TV. Once the dollars are there, those lazy trends will disappear, and YouTubers will strive to create the best content possible.
At the end of the day, that’s what content creators want to do!
While there are a small minority of “content spammers,” most folks creating videos on YouTube love creating great content, and want to be rewarded for that hard work. Once YouTubers know that their great projects aren’t being treated the same as weird kiddie channels, they will work twice as hard, and the ultimate winners will be advertisers and audiences.