For as long as YouTube has been a viable source of income for amateur video-makers, the site has shared an uneasy relationship with its content creators. Though a large amount of money can be made from uploading videos to the site, YouTube has been known to generally treat its creators as though they are ultimately disposable, failing to offer them any insight into major goings-on with the platform and routinely overlooking their rights in favor of cowering down before companies handing out unjustified copyright strikes. This is a platform in which a creator can produce a video criticizing a film or a video game, and then have the company that created it theoretically shut down their channel with a copyright takedown notice. YouTube Red is the latest, but arguably most damning, evidence of YouTube failing to fulfill its responsibilities not as a video-sharing site, but as an employer.
YouTube Red’s announcement wasn’t just surprising for the site’s users; the vast majority of its creators were also unaware of its existence. The new business model essentially gives users the option to pay a $9.99 monthly subscription fee that gives them the option to watch YouTube’s content ad-free, allows for offline viewing and also includes access to Google Play Music and YouTube Music. It will also include original YouTube shows available only to Red subscribers, with the likes of PewDiePie already on board to produce exclusive content for the platform. Despite the common misconception that a YouTube Red subscription does little more than remove ads, it’s actually a much more comprehensive package and a tantalizing prospect for those who spend a lot of the time on the site. However, most creators weren’t privy to this knowledge prior to the service’s announcement, and as such a lot of misinformation and hysteria circulated around the site’s community when the service was officially unveiled last week.
YouTube’s confusing announcement of Red continued their lengthy tradition of continuously keeping their content creators guessing in regards to the future of their respective careers. Dropping the bombshell that the company was looking to move away from generating the entirety of its revenue through ads was a huge deal for those who make money using the site, and that they did so with no prior warning to anyone other than their highest earners.
What YouTube, in its infinite wisdom, failed to predict was that this would lead to a heap of confusion among both creators and users, effectively generating unnecessary negative press for a service that actually provides a valuable service to both groups of people. This was in no way helped by the company’s announcement that the month of November would be entirely free, leading to concerns inevitably being raised about how YouTubers would receive their money throughout the duration of this month. YouTube later clarified that it would be paying out YouTubers’ money from its Google Play Music subscription fund – though the exact amount that they’ll receive hasn’t been confirmed – but a lot of damage had already been done. YouTubers inevitably took to Twitter, Facebook and their personal blogs, openly airing their fears about how YouTube Red could potentially impact their jobs. This then immediately cast a negative light over YouTube Red, with the big selling point of the program – it being a service that benefited both creator and viewer – lost amidst rampant speculation and increasingly hyperbolic rumors.
But what did YouTube expect? The site’s content creators have essentially carved a gap in the entertainment market by virtue of their personalities, which has led to vloggers, Let’s Players and the like cultivating an emotional bond with their audience, one who will be empathetic to their plight when they begin openly worrying about the website’s future. YouTube unveiling Red without holding a conversation with its video makers beforehand was only going to cause panic and uncertainty, which overshadowed the premise of a service which seeks to offer another source of income to creators outside of unreliable ad revenue.
Unfortunately, YouTube’s lack of transparency with its creators in regards to Red doesn’t end there – the company has also not revealed to its creators how much they’ll earn. They’ve stated that they’ll be dividing the “vast majority” of revenue generated by Red between the site’s creators, but a change to YouTube’s Partner Program Terms in April 2015 noted that the company’s then-untitled subscription service would dish out just 55% of earnings to them. Compare that with Spotify’s 70%, and it’s a relatively paltry sum.
YouTube have refused to reveal a percentage to the public, which makes their decision to effectively force creators to opt in to the service even more divisive. While YouTubers do have the option to not sign their channel up to Red, if they do so their videos are automatically made private, meaning that they can’t earn any ad revenue from them. YouTube have done this in order to make the service consistent and ensure that Red subscribers have an entirely ad-free site to browse (save for sponsored videos, of course – we’re still not sure if YouTube will lay down any new rules regarding those), and while this is thoroughly understandable, it puts content creators in the unenviable position of being forced to sign an agreement that could effectively see them losing money.
YouTube have claimed that this won’t be the case, but with the company so insistent on not sharing the percentage it will give to creators, it’s certainly suspicious. There’s also the matter of how YouTube is planning to divide the Red revenue between creators, with the site stating that it was looking to share it between them based on an algorithm that incorporates both number of views and length of video. With many YouTubers basing their content around short, snappy videos, this will likely therefore mean that they will see less money from Red than they would if their income was solely determined by ad clicks. YouTube is clearly trying to encourage its creators to produce lengthier videos, but not every channel is going to be capable of producing frequent 10+ minute videos.
YouTube Red remains a decent prospect for frequent users of the site, and is certainly a more preferable option than AdBlock as it still sees creators earning money. However, YouTube has once again taken advantage of their dominance in the video-sharing space by treating its creators as though they are not worthy of an explanation, with them being left to anxiously question whether or not their income will be negatively impacted, and forcing them to sign up to a new agreement with no real insurance that their finances won’t take a hit. YouTube will obviously prioritize the opinions of its viewers above everything else, but the company should also value those who actually create the original content that are its bread and butter. YouTube Red is the biggest addition to the site since its creation, and that YouTubers learned of its intricacies at the same time as the general public should not sit well with them. YouTube continues to treat its content creators as though they are doing them a favor by paying them to produce videos, when in actuality the site would be nothing without them.