“There’s no denying 2017 was a difficult year” – Paul Muret, VP, Display, Video & Analytics
For the past couple of years, YouTube has been able to grow a profitable and engaging business model within the video blogging world but its growth has also brought with it new challenges. The controversies of 2017 created significant challenges as major backlash hit YouTube from every direction.
The most direct effect felt was from the advertisers. Early in 2017, companies started pulling their ads from YouTube when they realized their products were being promoted next to videos with controversial content. Companies do not want their brands to be associated with this content and Google could not provide assurance that its algorithms could prevent it. One example from early January 2017, involved one of YouTube’s biggest stars, Felix Kjellberg, posting a video with anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi imagery. Another example towards the end of 2017 involved popular YouTube star, Logan Paul, filming himself mocking the corpse of a suicide victim. Over the span of 2017, there were other instances of videos with hate speech, the promotion of terrorism, and more but Paul and Kjellberg were prominent because the stars were part of the Google Preferred group. As you may recall, this group includes the top 5% of content on YouTube. This meant companies were paying premium prices for placement on their channels, only to later find out the channels were streaming offensive content. Many companies immediately feared the risk of negative associations with their brands and chose to pull back. After initial responses from YouTube/Google, some companies chose to return but others such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Starbucks Corporation., Procter & Gamble Co., were among the group that as of the beginning of 2018, had stayed away.
While these advertisers were reconsidering business with YouTube, the audiences were also putting pressure on YouTube. Viewers were not creating a financial effect on YouTube in the same way the loss of advertiser business was but at the end of the day, the business would be nothing without the viewers. The outrage over the contents of these videos was made known as people flooded the Twitter feed with their criticisms of the situation. In the case of the Logan Paul suicide forest video, 6.5 million people had viewed the video by the end of the first day and they had a lot to say about it. The criticism centered around a discussion on YouTube’s role in policing the offensive and disturbing content that is uploaded to the site. To make matters worse, YouTube did not respond right away and viewers felt when a statement was finally made, it was too little too late. The lack of prompt communication only served to spur more backlash. According to YouTube’s official tweets after the Logan Paul incident, they were taking the time to listen to what viewers had to say and they had started looking for more steps that could be taken in the future. YouTube did ultimately take both of the mentioned stars out of the Google Preferred group but audiences are not sure that is enough. The stars were still allowed to continue their channels and be paid for advertising. Fierce critics demanded more.
However, when YouTube finally responded with more in-depth steps for action, it was the creator community that felt the effects. In January of this year, Paul Muret, VP of Display, Video, & Analytics for Google explained management’s three-step approach to addressing the root of these issues. Muret discusses how YouTube will enforce stricter criteria for monetization on YouTube, manual reviews of content for Google Preferred, and greater transparency plus simpler controls for advertisers in terms of deciding where their ads appear. The implementation of this response imposes higher barriers for those seeking to make a career out of their video blogging. The creator community felt it was unfair that at the end, it was the smaller channels that would be most affected while the big stars who were at the root of the problem, got little more than a slap on the wrist.
Nevertheless, the new policies and procedures will continue to be implemented in an attempt to address the issue while sticking to the principle on which they based their site. At the end of 2017, YouTube stated that its openness is what has brought it so many benefits and they cannot regulate the site because it does not have the same editorial hand that broadcasters do. YouTube’s most recently proposed solution, as described by Muret, is their way of balancing these factors. Although the reputation of the company has been taking some punches, it hasn’t been enough to knock it down and I don’t think it will happen anytime soon either.
Nonetheless, it is interesting to see how the sum of all these individual incidents contributes to shaping this business. There have certainly been changes already and I am sure there are more to come. Especially considering the controversies have not stopped altogether. Just a few weeks after Muret announced the new policies and procedures, Logan Paul has been in the spotlight once again for a controversial video in which he is seen tasing dead rats as well as some other actions that YouTube does not condone. It might even make audiences feel like they were right when demanding that YouTube give him more than a slap on the wrist the first time around. This time though, the star’s channel was demonetized entirely. With this in mind, I am sure YouTube is working hard to strengthen their reputation despite all the scandals. Hopefully, 2018 will be an easier year.