YouTube: You Alright?

“There’s no denying 2017 was a difficult year” – Paul Muret, VP, Display, Video & Analytics

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

10 comments

  1. One of the challenges of managing platforms like these, is that people will always find unexpected use cases. Companies have to learn to account for these problems as the platforms evolve and grow. YouTube has a pretty good track record so far (i.e. it hasn’t become a big porn site, which was likely the first potential problem it faced), so I suspect it can figure out how to solve this problem as well.

    1. I agree. They definitely have managed their site very well. It’s interesting to keep up with how they continue to do it now.

  2. Great post about the dangers of a site where virtually anyone can upload any type of content. I saw a tweet recently by YouTube where they posted their new plan to address the problem you mentioned of a few channels uploading harmful content and affecting the entire community. (link: https://youtube-creators.googleblog.com/2018/02/preventing-harm-to-broader-youtube.html).
    One of their goals is to respond faster to these types of incidents so that they don’t spread too far and harm the entire YouTube community that is using the website in the correct manner. I hope that these additional steps enable them to fulfill their goal of tracking down and shutting down harmful content.

  3. Molly Pighini · ·

    I think you did a great job extending your presentation with this post. So many things have happened in this year alone, and you did a great job synthesizing their effects and the company’s reaction. I agree with some of the critics that YouTube needs to make a concerted effort to crack down on the big names. As in every industry, people who are taking advantage of the system will not change unless they are forced to change. Demonetizing Logan Paul’s site was a good first step to be sure. In any case, YouTube needs to take action quickly when issues arise. Not saying anything says a lot.

  4. Hi Jenny, I think you did a great job explaining the situation that Youtube is facing. I agree with Prof. Kane when he says that Youtube has have a pretty good track record so far. For the past 10+ years, Youtube was able to stay relatively chaos free and I think creators have exercised a surprising amount of restraint. But now that Youtubers are become hilariously rich, I think the creators on the platform are facing a dilemma: pander to your crazy fans for more money and views, or show some restraint regarding controversial content. Maybe its a dilemma for Youtube as well since there top 5% must be bringing boat loads money through ads (at least before). Would they risk alienating their top 5% by cracking down on their content or should they let them do whatever they want. Seems like the answer is to start cracking down.

    1. Yes, some of the YouTube artists that have spoken have addressed how they feel a pressure to constantly get more views but they have to stay grounded and not lose sight of ethical boundaries.

  5. Jenny, I loved your presentation so I am happy to see you extend the topic with a blog post! You provided some helpful insight regarding the effects controversial content has on businesses aside from that of the YouTubers: the advertisers. Advertisers place a lot of trust in Google’s algorithm, hoping that their ad isn’t placed with content that could potentially poorly reflect their brand. For that reason, I completely understand why some big brands are no longer investing in YouTube.

    While 2017 has proven that investing in ads on YouTube is risky, the pure fact that YouTubers like Logan Paul can reach 6.5 million people in one day illustrates that this risk more times than not is worth it. (I say more times than not because the number of controversial videos posted in comparison to the number of fine videos posted by YouTube’s best creators is incredibly contrasting).

  6. Nice post, Jenny. I think you did a great job of highlighting the challenges facing YouTube. I find it funny that a lot of platforms like YouTube benefit from users generating content but can also really suffer from it as well. It is truly a double-edged sword. Though I’m sure Google’s algorithm’s are incredibly advanced, it is impossible to make sure that all content that popular creators produce aligns with the interests of advertisers.

    Going forward it seems that the higher-ups at YouTube will need to adopt better crisis-management skills to swiftly and decisively respond to inappropriate content. If they fail to do this I’m certain it will be at the expense of their ad revenue. As you have pointed out, much of the damage from Logan Paul’s video would have been adverted if the company responded better. The whole situation is a great case-study for other companies that have created platforms reliant on user-generated content.

  7. I think that this is definitely a big challenge for any company where the customers are able to post basically whatever they want. In the case of Youtube, it is very hard for them to monitor and block a lot of these videos because there is just so many users uploading every day. I think that ever since Youtube started allowing it’s uploaders to generate money, a lot of bad things have happened. A lot of these “vloggers” are so money-hungry, that they do very dangerous and graphic stuff to get views. It is almost like Youtube is a competition for who can do the most epic/absurd thing. That being said, the audience for these top vloggers is very young, typically around 10-16 years old. These kids look up to these vloggers and think of them as their role models. They try to imitate everything that these older people do, and they could end up really hurting themselves. Also, the vlogger needs to be more aware of what they are posting. I don’t know if Youtube has this metric, but the vloggers should be able to see what the age range of their viewers are, so they can cater their content to make sure that it is not too inappropriate for them. If they do not want to do this, I think Youtube needs to step in and threaten to non-monetize the vloggers videos or block them from the public until they change.

  8. Great post; Jenny! I appreciated your insights on the extremely newsworthy controversial content this year, and would be interested to know how much other factors – such as Advertisers spending on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat – affected YouTube this year? As someone who works in the video field, most of our content is often geared toward Facebook and Instagram user behavior, and I would be interested to see how this larger trend is affecting YouTube.

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