In late 2017, YouTube began to roll out a series of changes that impacted its platform, creators, “partners” and viewers. Many of these changes were in response to criticisms that the platform was failing to police fringe content, particularly videos that fell into their more mature category. Both demonetization and view suppression have led to not only high stakes but high emotions. Some disgruntled YouTubers found productive ways to combat these factors while others engaged in more nefarious behaviors.
One of the greatest points of contention was that YouTube has continued to up the ante and revise requirements for their partners enrolled in the YouTube Partner Program. Changes have consistently included a rising threshold for monetization, manual content reviews and improved control of ad placement. After the January 2018 roll-out, it required that anyone who wants to profit from ads needs to generate 4,000 hours of “watch time” within a 12-month period and attract at least 1,000 subscribers(Swisher). These changes hit the smaller video makers much harder than those who were more established, with many of referring to the program revision as “demonetization” and even calling the day of the roll-out “Demonetization Day”, complete with trending hashtag.
YouTube further added to the complexity by applying these rules retroactively. While existing YouTube Partners were given a 30-day grace period to get their viewing hours and subscribers up to par, many were kicked out and lost their enrollment in the revenue-sharing program when they fell short. Creators like Christine Barger and others part of the #SmallYouTuberArmy, took to their channels and other social media platforms, begging their fans to not only to help them gain subscribers but to also run their videos in the background, to help increase those hours of watch time. For many, it wasn’t the fear of losing out just on future ad revenue, but it was the fear of not being able to finish slowly crawling to their next $100 minimum withdrawal marker. In short, they were afraid that the money that they had slowly and painstakingly worked towards would also evaporate if kicked out of the program. I have been unable to confirm if this was the case. Perhaps no news means good news? (Alexander Lesser Known)
The new rules, while positioned in response to censoring offensive content, didn’t’ actually make it more difficult to upload these sorts of videos, it just made it more difficult to turn a profit off it. This is an interesting revision to the policy considering that in April of 2017, again in response to negative feedback about content in poor taste, YouTube implemented a requirement of 10,000-lifetime views in order to participate in a monetization program. This attempt to police YouTube content and ensure appropriateness did little so stop YouTube heavy hitters, like Logan Paul, from posting the now infamous suicide forest video. For many YouTubers, they interpret the 2018 revisions as a response to this incident, especially after YouTube faced harsh criticism regarding this incident, which resulted in their public revocation of this Partner status and suspension of his YouTube Red projects (Alexander YouTube).
Even before the revisions to the partnership program, YouTube began to crack down on platform monetization in different ways. While YouTube shooter, Nasim Najafi Aghdam, was the loudest person to talk about view suppression, she was not the first. YouTube’s position, that in Ms. Aghdam’s case, her channel was suppressed and terminated due to Terms of Service violations, others with less controversial content have experienced this as well (Fortune).
A large number of struggling YouTubers turned to Patreon to generate more income and combat view suppression, well before the YouTube Shooter accused the platform of these practices. For many of them, they posted their Patreon link in the comments of their YouTube channel to drive traffic from their current fan base to the new platform. In September of 2017, YouTube went on to announce that creators who weren’t enrolled in the partnership program would no longer be able to link to external sites, like Patreon, in their videos (Kulp) For many, this was just one of the factors responsible for platform exodus.
Simone Giertz of “Shitty Robot Nation” sums up her Patreon channel, tone of her content and problems that led her to change platforms entirely in her intro, “ I build shitty robots and hang out on the internet for a living and have gotten into a lot of trouble because I say the S-word, the F-word, the D-word, the P-word, the W-word, the K-word, the B-word and let’s not forget the T-word. Ok, now I’m just writing random letters. K-word? Ketchup? Knickers? We’ve got a bad one over here.” (Giertz)
All silliness aside, Simone points out some similar problems that other Patreon creatives are having—overarching censorship. Giertz laments on a recent video that she lost sponsorship on her YouTube channel because of not censoring her speech or opinions. (Which really aren’t that out there, she literally got dropped for making an analogy in which she compared advertising to a dog who poops on your bathroom floor and not the carpet… I didn’t really understand the recap on that. I guess you will have to find out yourself. (Giertz) Shitty Robot Nation seems to not be doing so shitty actually—at time of writing, she already made her $1000 monthly goal, on May 1st.
Phillip DeFranco became an “independent creator again” when he created an offshoot of his popular YouTube channel on Patreon under the name “DeFranco Elite.” The demonetization of YouTube was a factor in his relocation. However, DeFranco stated that he wanted to “make sure no corporate interest can manipulate and control how the news is presented.” He also expressed that by changing platforms, it allowed him to move his craft towards being a more collaborative effort with his audience. DeFranco appears to make good on this promise by holding monthly “Town Halls” where Patrons can collectively collaborate with him to change the direction of the content.
After reading many articles and looking at a ton of Patreon accounts, specifically those of YouTubers who changed teams, I came to almost no conclusions about what created a successful Patreon or monetized platform aside from consistent use of tangible rewards and passion. However, as famous YouTuber, PewDiePie pointed out “there’s an expectation that if you work hard enough, you can make it, but it’s not true.” I found a large number of equally passionate creators with equally impressive reward incentives who were not making their entire living off of monetization. For some, they lacked the tenure of some of the heavy hitters. But for others, it was simply a matter of, while their content was well done, it was too niche to amass a following that could be profitable.
I initially went into researching this paper hoping to find a sort of Map to Monetization El Dorado. Needless to say, I didn’t find one. What I did learn though, is that there are a lot of passionate creators out there who are willing to connect and collaborate with their audience while sharing their work. Many harness these platforms as a way to grow their art. For many of them, while platform monetization isn’t the way to internet fame and riches or is even lucrative enough to necessarily cover their projects or supplies, it is a way for them to find new and unique ways to connect with true fans and recruit new potential true fans. So, for me, as a maker and creator who also doesn’t make a lot of money off of what I do but find passion in sharing it with others is, “Aren’t Patreon and YouTube other platforms to just keep doing what I’ve been doing all along—sharing my passion for the sake of sharing what I love to do?”
Alexander, Julia. “Lesser-Known YouTubers Band Together on ‘Demonetization Day’.” Polygon, Polygon, 20 Feb. 2018.
Alexander, Julia. “YouTube Introduces New Criteria for Creator Monetization, Google Preferred Structure.” Polygon.
DeFranco, Phillip. “Philip DeFranco Is Creating a News and Entertainment Network.” Patreon.
Giertz, Simone. “Simone Giertz Is Creating Shitty Robots.” Patreon.
Kulp, Patrick. “Bad News for YouTube Creators Who Depend on Patreon.” Mashable, Mashable, 29 Sept. 2017.
“Police Have Identified the YouTube Shooter as a Video Creator Who Railed Against the Site for Suppressing Her Views.” Fortune.
Swisher, Kara. “Here’s YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki Talking about Controversial Monetization Changes on the Platform.” Recode, Recode, 4 Apr. 2018.