The following was originally written as a response to a statement on the YouTube Partner Monetization Forum that if a YouTuber just concentrated on making better videos, that would overcome the giant revenue drops they were experiencing. For those of you who don’t know, a “YouTube Partner” is one who makes money from the traffic their video attracts on YouTube. The program has been the key reason for YouTube’s continued growth since 2007, when it started.
In the middle of writing the response, this blogger found one pent-up point-of-view after the other coming to surface, so I wrote until I felt I was done. I was trying explain that YouTube itself was headed in the wrong strategic direction.
Here’s what I wrote:
With all due respect, telling a partner to “just concentrate on good videos” is not the answer. There is a HUGE problem, and it shows up in the fact that YouTube has openly stated in company documents that it wants creators to have making videos as their only job.
If that’s the case, then why is it that many partners are going through these sudden and draconian revenue drops? And where did the “under review” process, not mentioned in YouTube’s Content Licensing Terms of Service, come from? And why is it that many YT Partners, who should not be afraid to ask these questions, are? A contract is a contract – arguably YouTube has not been living up to its end of the deal of late.
YouTube Invited Too Many To Become Partners
I’ve seen the work of many partners, and in most cases, the videos are excellent and compelling – yet the view count is really low. There’s a reason for this: YouTube started liberating the rules on how one could become a partner. My hypothesis is that YT wound up with too many partners, and started paying out too much money and then tried to think of a way to scale back. On top of that, YouTube started asking partners to pay to promote their videos. That’s new only over the last two years.
So we have YouTube asking partners to pay to promote videos that in the past the system promoted, and YouTube cutting average revenue – that reads like a profit ploy to me. And it’s harming many partners, regardless of how good their videos are.
Viral Videos Made YouTube
YouTube is trying to run away from what made it famous – the viral video – and encourage more long-form content with the idea of becoming what it already is: TV of The Future. But that this is done, shows that YouTube’s own people don’t understand the dynamics of the complex system the platform has become – I do.
At a YouTube Partners Meeting In the fall of 2010 at YouTube Headquarters in San Bruno, I warned YouTube staff that they should have a plan of growth for staff as they add partners, or they would not be able to service the population well. That point has been reached. And while the YT Partner staff that focuses on content does a FANTASTIC job, and Chris Rewak should be knighted, they’re overwhelmed. I predicted this would happen. When I made that statement in 2010, there were 40,000 partners – today, there are 2 million partners.
Gone are the days when YT Partner Meetups were commonplace. Gone are the days of partner-to-partner vlog conversations dominating YouTube traffic and creating stars like Renetto or Michael Buckley. What’s replaced them in some cases are some people uploading videos of gaming animation to make a quick buck. Or what’s replaced them are giant networks backed by venture capital money – a point of reach that’s beyond the dreams of the common vlogger.
This is a terrible state of affairs, but it is correctable. YouTube must give up its silly and not well considered effort at long form videos because it goes against the very nature of the dynamics of viewing videos on YouTube. YouTube must make it easy for the common video-blogger who’s a partner to earn a living. YouTube must be 100 percent transparent in its policies and policy changes. And most important, YouTube must stop trying to be something its not.
YouTube is already “Television Of The Future,” it just doesn’t know it because it’s too focused on trying to be Hollywood. Time one spends watching a YouTube video takes away from television. YouTube’s very platform design makes that Hollywood desire a pipe dream – if YT execs continue to go after that objective at the expense of viral videos, YouTube will fail.
YouTube’s Classic Design Made It Grow
When you see a video on YouTube, there’s always another video next to it, giving you the ability to click away out of curiosity. But that process also generates multiple clicks, which makes the entire platform more attractive to a search engine. YouTube has been designed that way in some for since the beginning. It’s one reason why I turned to YouTube and away from Blip.tv in 2006, and started making political commentary and news-on-the-scene videos. It was easy to gain an audience and a following via that design. In 2008, I became a YouTube Partner and before that, I was one of the first to be able to upload a video of unlimited length in late 2007, and thanks to YouTube Founder Chad Hurley.
While I made videos of up to 42 minutes in watch time, I knew full well that the videos everyone wants to see are fights, sex, action, and arguments of short-duration. Guess what: that’s human nature – you can’t change our wiring to stop that. It’s downright silly to try and re-engineer human behavior via a video platform. People like to get what I call a “quick fix” – let them have it.
Moreover, YouTube’s long-form push goes against the modern market trend of the 15-second video. Tout, SocialCam, Viddy, and Vidoco, lead the pack, and here comes Vine, with its six-second video timing. They’re drawing viewers away from YouTube and so much so, that YouTube developed, but has not promoted well, YouTube Capture, for the iPhone. If you’ve used it, and I have, you have to keep your videos short (to around 15 seconds) because something of 1 minute or longer takes over 3 hours to upload!
The practical nature of wanting to distribute a video and see it as soon as possible forces one to use YouTube Capture for short-duration videos.
Let People Be People
What I have found is that if a person wants to watch a long-form video, they will. They don’t have to be encouraged to do so by anything other than word of mouth. Videos promoted by television, like the President’s State Of The Union Speech, do the best – a logical expectation and byproduct of television’s giant “water-cooler” effect. But YouTube does not have to kill the viral video with this code change that rewards “engagement.” If a video keeps a viewer for a few seconds before they go away, so what? Don’t punish the video maker or video blogger. Just let that be part of the deal – the viewer will click away to something they like just as much, but in a way that causes them to watch longer. Guess what? YouTube wins.
Right now, YouTube’s trying to force longer watch times, and it’s not going to happen. Not in a growing 15-second and 6-second video universe. YouTube had a nice free market active on its platform, until it started messing with it.
Back To The Future
YouTube should try this: change it back to the way it was, admit what we all know: that the new way isn’t working, and then just plain leave it alone. And YouTube project managers should be forced to make video-blogs by contract, if only to have a clear understanding of the idiosyncrasies of the YouTube Platform that the rest of us YT Partners have to deal with, every day. At YouTube’s special event space at Comic Con 2012, one YouTube project manager proudly told me she never made a video. That was openly insulting to a YouTuber who’s made videos for the platform almost every day since 2006. We had little to talk about, and that was a shame. She had no questions for me at all.
So, in closing, declining partner money is not the fault of the YT Partner’s video product, it’s the fault of YouTube execs who don’t fully understand the complexities of the changes they make, and how they harm YouTube’s most valuable constituency: the YouTube Partner. It’s time for a change – for a return to the way we were.