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The Golden Age of Youtube Is Over

From The Verge:

The platform was built on the backs of independent creators, but now YouTube is abandoning them for more traditional content.

. . . .

Aanny Philippou is mad.

He’s practically standing on top of his chair as his twin brother and fellow YouTube creator Michael stares on in amusement. Logan Paul, perhaps YouTube’s most notorious character, laughs on the other side of the desk that they’re all sitting around for an episode of his popular podcast Impaulsive. Anyone who’s watched the Philippous’ channel, RackaRacka, won’t be surprised by Danny’s antics. This is how he gets when he’s excited or angry. This time, he’s both.

“It’s not fair what they’re doing to us,” Danny yells. “It’s just not fair.”

Danny, like many other creators, is proclaiming the death of YouTube — or, at least, the YouTube that they grew up with. That YouTube seemed to welcome the wonderfully weird, innovative, and earnest, instead of turning them away in favor of late-night show clips and music videos.

The Philippou twins hover between stunt doubles and actors, with a penchant for the macabre. But YouTube, the platform where they built their audience base, doesn’t seem to want them anymore.

. . . .

The Philippous’ story is part of a long-brewing conflict between how creators view YouTube and how YouTube positions itself to advertisers and press. YouTube relies on creators to differentiate itself from streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, it tells creators it wants to promote their original content, and it hosts conferences dedicated to bettering the creator community. Those same creators often feel abandoned and confused about why their videos are buried in search results, don’t appear on the trending page, or are being quietly demonetized.

At the same time, YouTube’s pitch decks to advertisers increasingly seem to feature videos from household celebrity names, not creative amateurs. And the creators who have found the most success playing into the platform’s algorithms have all demonstrated profound errors in judgment, turning themselves into cultural villains instead of YouTube’s most cherished assets.

. . . .

YouTube was founded on the promise of creating a user-generated video platform, but it was something else that helped the site explode in popularity: piracy.

When Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.6 billion, the platform had to clean up its massive piracy problems. It was far too easy to watch anything and everything on YouTube, and movie studios, television conglomerates, and record labels were seething. Under Google, YouTube had to change. So YouTube’s executives focused on lifting up the very content its founders designed the platform with in mind: original videos.

The focus on creator culture defined YouTube culture from its earliest days. The platform was a stage for creators who didn’t quite fit into Hollywood’s restrictions.

. . . .

Between 2008 and 2011, the volume of videos uploaded to YouTube jumped from 10 hours every minute to 72 hours a minute. By 2011, YouTube had generated more than 1 trillion views; people were watching over 3 billion hours of video every month, and creators were earning real money via Google AdSense — a lot of money. Jenna Marbles was making more than six figures by late 2011. (In 2018, a select group of creators working within YouTube’s top-tier advertising platform would make more than $1 million a month.)

By 2012, creators like Kjellberg were leaving school or their jobs to focus on YouTube full-time. He told a Swedish news outlet that he was getting more than 2 million views a month, boasting just over 300,000 subscribers.

. . . .

Between 2011 and 2015, YouTube was a haven for comedians, filmmakers, writers, and performers who were able to make the work they wanted and earn money in the process. It gave birth to an entirely new culture that crossed over into the mainstream: Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl series would eventually lead to HBO’s Insecure. Creators like the Rooster Teeth team and Tyler Oakley went on tour to meet fans after generating massive followings online. YouTube had reached mainstream success, but in many ways, it still felt wide open. Anyone could still upload almost anything they wanted without much input from YouTube itself.

. . . .

Behind the scenes, things were changing. YouTube had begun tinkering with its algorithm to increase engagement and experimenting with ways to bring flashier, produced content to the platform to keep up with growing threats like Netflix.

In October 2012, YouTube announced that its algorithm had shifted to prefer videos with longer watch times over higher view counts. “This should benefit your channel if your videos drive more viewing time across YouTube,” the company wrote in a blog post to creators.

This meant viral videos like “David After Dentist” and “Charlie Bit My Finger,” which defined YouTube in its earliest days, weren’t going to be recommended as much as longer videos that kept people glued to the site. In response, the YouTube community began creating videos that were over 10 minutes in length as a way to try to appease the system.

. . . .

In 2011, YouTube invested $100 million into more than 50 “premium” channels from celebrities and news organizations, betting that adding Hollywood talent and authoritative news sources to the platform would drive up advertising revenue and expand YouTube to an even wider audience. It failed less than two years later, with what appeared to be a clear lesson: talent native to YouTube was far more popular than any big names from the outside.

. . . .

Then, suddenly, creators started encountering problems on the platform. In 2016, personalities like Philip DeFranco, comedians like Jesse Ridgway, and dozens of other popular creators started noticing that their videos were being demonetized, a term popularized by the communityto indicate when something had triggered YouTube’s system to remove advertisements from a video, depriving them of revenue. No one was quite sure why, and it prompted complaints about bigger algorithm changes that appeared to be happening.

Kjellberg posted a video detailing how changes had dropped his viewership numbers. He’d been getting 30 percent of his traffic from YouTube’s suggested feed, but after the apparent algorithm update, the number fell to less than 1 percent. Kjellberg jokingly threatened to delete his channel as a result, which was enough to get YouTube to issue a statementdenying that anything had changed. (The denial sidestepped questions of the algorithm specifically, and spoke instead to subscriber counts.)

These perceived, secretive changes instilled creators with a distrust of the platform. It also led to questions about their own self-worth and whether the energy they were spending on creating and editing videos — sometimes north of 80 hours a week — was worth it.

. . . .

YouTube was exerting more control over what users saw and what videos would make money. Once again, the community would adapt. But how it adapted was far more problematic than anyone would have guessed.

. . . .

By the beginning of 2017, YouTube was already battling some of its biggest problems in more than a decade. YouTube’s founders didn’t prepare for the onslaught of disturbing and dangerous content that comes from people being able to anonymously share videos without consequence. Add in a moderation team that couldn’t keep up with the 450 hours of video that were being uploaded every minute, and it was a house of cards waiting to fall.

YouTube had come under fire in Europe and the United States for letting extremists publish terrorism recruitment videos to its platform and for letting ads run on those videos. In response, YouTube outlined the steps it was taking to remove extremist content, and it told advertisers it would be careful about where their ads were placed. It highlighted many creators as a safe option.

But neither YouTube nor Google was prepared for what Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg — one of YouTube’s wealthiest independently made creators — would do.

. . . .

In mid-February 2017, The Wall Street Journal discovered an older video from Kjellberg that included him reacting to a sign held up by two kids that said, “Death to all Jews.” The anti-Semitic comment was included in one of his “react” videos about Fiverr, after having pivoted to more of a variety channel instead of focusing just on games.

His video, along with reports of ads appearing on terrorist content, led to advertisers abandoning YouTube. Kjellberg was dropped from Disney’s Maker Studios, he lost his YouTube Red series, Scare PewDiePie, and he was removed from his spot in Google Preferred, the top-tier ad platform for YouTube’s most prominent creators.

“A lot of people loved the video and a lot of people didn’t, and it’s almost like two generations of people arguing if this is okay or not,” Kjellberg said in an 11-minute video about the situation. “I’m sorry for the words that I used, as I know they offended people, and I admit the joke itself went too far.”

The attention Kjellberg brought to YouTube kickstarted the first “adpocalypse,” a term popularized within the creator community that refers to YouTube aggressively demonetizing videos that might be problematic, in an effort to prevent companies from halting their ad spending.

Aggressively demonetizing videos would become YouTube’s go-to move.

. . . .

The January 2017 closure of Vine, a platform for looping six-second videos, left a number of creators and influencers without a platform, and many of those stars moved over to YouTube. David Dobrik, Liza Koshy, Lele Pons, Danny Gonzalez, and, of course, Jake and Logan Paul became instant successes on YouTube — even though many of them had started YouTube channels years before their success on Vine.

YouTube’s biggest front-facing stars began following in the footsteps of over-the-top, “bro” prank culture. (Think: Jackass but more extreme and hosted by attractive 20-somethings.) Logan Paul pretended to be shot and killed in front of young fans; Jake Paul rode dirt bikes into pools; David Dobrik’s friends jumped out of moving cars. The antics were dangerous, but they caught people’s attention.

. . . .

Jake and Logan Paul became the biggest stars of this new wave, performing dangerous stunts, putting shocking footage in their vlogs, and selling merchandise to their young audiences. Although they teetered on the edge of what was acceptable and what wasn’t, they never really crossed the line into creating totally reprehensible content.

. . . .

It wasn’t a sustainable form of entertainment, and it seemed like everyone understood that except for YouTube. The Paul brothers were on their way to burning out; all it would take was one grand mistake. Even critics of the Pauls, like Kjellberg, empathized with their position. Kjellberg, who faced controversy after controversy, spoke about feeling as though right or wrong ceased to exist when trying to keep up with the YouTube machine.

“The problem with being a YouTuber or an online entertainer is that you constantly have to outdo yourself,” Kjellberg said in a 2018 video. “I think a lot of people get swept up in that … that they have to keep outdoing themselves, and I think it’s a good reflection of what happened with Logan Paul. If you make videos every single day, it’s really tough to keep people interested and keep them coming back.”

Still, Logan Paul was small potatoes compared to YouTube’s bigger problems, including disturbing children’s content that had been discovered by The New York Times and more terrorism content surfacing on the site. Who cared about what two brothers from Ohio were doing? The breaking point would be when Logan Paul visited Japan.

. . . .

Logan Paul’s “suicide forest” video irrevocably changed YouTube.

In it, Paul and his friends tour Japan’s Aokigahara forest, where they encountered a man’s body. Based on the video, it appears that he had recently died by suicide. Instead of turning the camera off, Paul walks up to the body. He doesn’t stop there. He zooms in on the man’s hands and pockets. In post-production, Paul blurred the man’s face, but it’s hard to see the video as anything but an egregious gesture of disrespect.

Within hours of posting the video, Paul’s name began trending. Actors like Aaron Paul (no relation), influencers like Chrissy Teigen, and prominent YouTubers called out Paul for his atrocious behavior.

YouTube reacted with a familiar strategy: it imposed heavy restrictions on its Partner Program (which recognizes creators who can earn ad revenue on their videos), sharply limiting the number of videos that were monetized with ads. In a January 2018 blog post announcing the changes, Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s head of business, said the move would “allow us to significantly improve our ability to identify creators who contribute positively to the community,” adding that “these higher standards will also help us prevent potentially inappropriate videos from monetizing which can hurt revenue for everyone.”

. . . .

The only people who didn’t receive blame were YouTube executives themselves — something that commentators like Philip DeFranco took issue with after the controversy first occurred. “We’re talking about the biggest creator on YouTube posting a video that had over 6 million views, was trending on YouTube, that no doubt had to be flagged by tons of people,” DeFranco said.

“The only reason it was taken down is Logan or his team took it down, and YouTube didn’t do a damn thing. Part of the Logan Paul problem is that YouTube is either complicit or ignorant.”

. . . .

[B]y the middle of 2018, lifestyle vloggers like Carrie Crista, who has just under 40,000 subscribers, were proclaiming how the community felt: forgotten. “YouTube seems to have forgotten who made the platform what it is,” Crista told PR Week. In its attempt to compete with Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, she said, YouTube is “pushing content creators away instead of inviting them to a social platform that encourages them to be creative in a way that other platforms can’t.”

Even people outside of YouTube saw what was happening. “YouTube is inevitably heading towards being like television, but they never told their creators this,” Jamie Cohen, a professor of new media at Molloy College, toldUSA Today in 2018.

By promoting videos that meet certain criteria, YouTube tips the scales in favor of organizations or creators — big ones, mostly — that can meet those standards. “Editing, creating thumbnails, it takes time,” Juliana Sabo, a creator with fewer than 1,000 subscribers, said in 2018 after the YouTube Partner Program changes. “You’re just prioritizing a very specific type of person — the type of person that has the time and money to churn out that content.”

Individual YouTube creators couldn’t keep up with the pace of YouTube’s algorithm set. But traditional, mainstream outlets could: late-night shows began to dominate YouTube, along with music videos from major labels. The platform now looked the way it had when it started, but with the stamp of Hollywood approval.

. . . .

The RackaRacka brothers are tired.

“We loved it before when it was like, ‘Oh, you guys are doing something unique and different. Let’s help you guys so you can get views and get eyes on it,’” Danny says. “I’d love to go back to that. We have so many big, awesome ideas that we’d love to do, but there’s no point in doing it on YouTube.”

Link to the rest at The Verge

The OP is a very long article. PG has excerpted more than he might have from an article with a different topic, however.

While reading the article, PG was struck by parallels between how dependent indy videographers were on YouTube and how dependent indy authors are on Amazon.

A year ago, PG doesn’t believe he would have had the same response. The amateurism and arrogance demonstrated by YouTube management in the OP contrasted greatly with the maturity and steady hand at the top levels of Amazon. Amazon has not made many dumb mistakes. Amazon has also treated indy authors with respect and generosity beyond that shown by any other publisher/distributor/bookstore in the US (and probably elsewhere).

This is not to say Amazon is a perfect company or that it hasn’t made some mistakes, but Amazon has demonstrated good business judgment, done a pretty good job of fixing its errors and hasn’t changed the way it operates in a manner that has harmed indie authors in a serious way.

Obviously, Jeff Bezos, his attitudes, judgment and approach to dealing with others has imprinted itself up and down the corporate hierarchy at Amazon. That sure hand on the corporate helm has caused PG to trust Amazon more than he does any other large tech company.

Additionally, Amazon has been leagues beyond any other organization in the book publishing and bookselling business in attracting smart adults as managers, making intelligent business decisions, treating partners well and managing the business as if it wanted long-term success as a publisher and bookseller (see, as only one example of business as usual in the publishing world, Barnes & Noble).

However.

PG admits his faith in Jeff Bezos’ solid judgment took a big hit with the disclosure of Bezos’ marital misconduct and divorce.

This struck him as an immature example of the runaway hubris that has brought down quite a few large companies, particularly in the tech world.

PG is old-fashioned in his belief that the behavior of a virtuous individual will manifest itself in all parts of that individual’s life. He understands the common explanation for such behavior in terms of a person being able to segment his life into business and personal spheres and continue in public excellence while making serious mistakes in private behavior.

PG also understands that marriages can fail for a wide variety of reasons and assigning blame for such failure (if there is blame to be assigned) is impossible for someone who is not privy to the personal lives of each party. That said, PG suggests at least a separation, if not a divorce, would be a more standup approach by a mature adult exercising good judgment to a marriage that has declined to the point of a breakup.

A secret affair that is leaked to the press is not, in PG’s admittedly traditional eyes, up to the standards he has come to expect from Bezos. The general reaction PG has seen in the press leads PG to believe he is not alone in his opinion.

Amazon, PG's Thoughts (such as they are)

22 Comments to “The Golden Age of Youtube Is Over”

  1. PG admits his faith in Jeff Bezos’ solid judgment took a big hit with the disclosure of Bezos’ marital misconduct and divorce.

    I don’t much care about his marriage. It’s none of my business. Lots of people get divorced and are very successful in business.

    But, his public reaction did cause me to lose faith in his judgement. Coupled with his entry into the political arena, and Amazon’s more recent moves to remove books based on political viewpoint, I’d say he is pulling Amazon in a direction that will benefit neither consumers nor stockholders.

  2. His marriage has no impact for me on his business decisions, particularly when it’s highly unlikely he’s actually making the detailed decisions that will affect indy authors–the company’s too big for that. He has people to make those decisions for him (for better or worse).

    What did impress me was how he handled the blackmail attempt when extortionists got the incriminating / embarrassing pictures. Intentionally taking the hit to his reputation in order to neutralise the ammunition against him showed considerable clarity of judgement.

  3. PG admits his faith in Jeff Bezos’ solid judgment took a big hit with the disclosure of Bezos’ marital misconduct and divorce.

    PG, I am ignorant of Jeff’s ‘marital misconduct’. What did he do? A link will suffice to answer.

    I have noticed a decline in the quality of service Amazon delivers since his divorce began. From that, I deduce that the organization he has built depends on his personal management. I also deduce that it is too fragile to survive without him. By that I mean we will all see the decline once he is gone.

    As for YouTube, their missteps open the market for new-comers.

    But keep this in mind. Tide has the largest share of the laundry detergent market in the United States not because it is best but because it was first.

    • “I deduce that the organization he has built depends on his personal management.”

      I have worked at Amazon for over a decade and never once been in a meeting with JB, or been involved with a project that got feedback from him, etc. He isn’t even the CEO of what you think of “Amazon” any longer: Jeff Wilke has run “consumer” for at least, oh, the last 5 years. Bezos occasionally picks a favored project and gets a bit involved, e.g. Alexa, but 99% of the company operates independently of him personally… His influence now is almost all through the culture (“Leadership Values”) that he instilled.

      I think what you are seeing is “correlation” not “causation.”

      • Drew, I apologize. I did not state my meaning clearly.

        I meant to say that Bezos’s personal style permeates the company. As you said, “[h]is influence now is almost all through the culture (“Leadership Values”) that he instilled.” Do you deny that his influence is felt? As it was with Apple and Jobs, Microsoft and Gates, HP and Packard?

        My direct experience with an organization reflecting the leader’s personal style came from the Air Force. The first chief of staff of the United States Air Force was Carl ‘Toomey’ Spaatz. Spaatz’s passions were flying and work. He pursued both with untiring energy. He hated military spit-and-polish and drill. That is the principal reason the Air Force dress uniform looks like it was stolen from a train conductor and why the Air Force can’t march for spit. And Toomey Spaatz served as the Air Force Chief of Staff for less than a year. Of course, he served in key positions in the Army Air Force before, but the boys in blue still toe the line set by Toomey Spaatz 45 years after his death.

        Same as Amazon.

        YMMV, but if it does, it is ahistorical.

        • Corporate culture really is a thing.
          Organizations really do better when the leader is at least somewhat similar to the founder. Finding one “in the wild” isn’t easy or common so the companies that do the best for the longest are the ones that develop them. And few do.

          It is no accident that Microsoft, for one, is experiencing a renaissance under Nadella who is as much a focused, thoughtful visionary as Gates after having coasted under process-focused Balmer. Nadella has a strong idea of what the organization is supposed to be, a tools company, and that is very much in line with Gates’ original vision. The organization is responding positively.

          Now it is Apple facing the challenge of a process-focused leader trying to run a company crafted by a vision-focused leader. So far the results aren’t encouraging. They’re coasting.

  4. He has people to make those decisions for him (for better or worse).

    Direction and policy needs to be firmly set at the top of the organization. Decisions to implement it can the be made down the line. Without that kind of direction we get what we see at Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Lower level people use the company to further their own agendas. Those decisions can be guided to yield the better rather than the worse. Management that accepts the worse has failed.

  5. Google will regret this, but not just for the reasons you may think. Guess who lobbied more and was more influential for the new European copyright directive that’s so unfavourable to platforms like YouTube, indie creators or the traditional media industry.

  6. I don’t really think that Amazon has treated independent creators better than YouTube. There have been plenty of problems with reviews, Kindle Unlimited bizarre payments, etc. The difference is that independent authors have much less of a voice and a reach than Youtubers, that can talk directly to fans. Furthermore traditional publishers do not behave betters than Amazon, so authors knows that the alternative might be worse or irrelevant. On the other hand YouTubers are used to better treatment (by past YouTube) so they are quite annoyed by the changes.

    Having said that, much of the criticism of YouTubers is misplaced. YouTube strongly favored mediocre content of top creators, that was addictive for its audience. I dare anyone to say the content of Kjellberg (PewDiePie) of the Paul brothers is anything that will stand the test of time. This is not a matter of taste: Leni Riefenstahl is very controversial for obvious reasons, but her movies are still studied. I don’t think that people will watch their content in a few decades. These people are mediocre artists, that were promoted by the platform for its own reasons. It is not an accident that most of these superstars have young adult audiences, which are not well served by TV and have much free time.

    Now the platform is promoting something else, content created by traditional artists that might be easier to manage. This is bad because it means that they are still incapable of actually supporting many independent creators, but is not worse than when they promoted just the big YouTube creators. Outside of the young adult audience there were already very few big success stories.
    YouTube never found a good way to actually promote small creators. That is bad, but nobody else managed to do it also. Many of the good independent creators were already forced to create other sources of incomes, like donations or sponsorships.

    • I suspect neither media companies nor consumers give a hoot if what they watch today will be popular in 2060. Anyone watch Dallas in the Eighties? How’s that test of time working? Soap operas seem to survive the test of time best.

      Let’s have a show of hands. How many independent authors expect their books to be widely read and appreciated in 2060?

      Let’s have another show of hands. How many independent authors expect all those other independent authors’ books will be widely read and appreciated in 2060?

  7. Whatever about the personal situation of Jeff Bezos – which I don’t particularly care about – I think there are pretty obvious parallels here between how YouTube and Amazon handle problematic content/complaints. Amazon has long taken a “See No Evil” policy towards scammers, only taking action if it spills over into the mainstream media.

    • Some scams result in measurable harm to consumers or the company. Others result in no incremental consumer or company costs. Platforms act against the first type, but will never take the same level of action against the second.

  8. Some scams result in measurable harm to consumers or the company. Others result in no incremental consumer or company costs. Platforms act against the first type, but will never take the same level of action against the second. We will probably see lots of parallels among firms that encounter the second type.

  9. Bezos didn’t just have an affair, he texted pics of his nether regions to his girlfriend, like a horny teenager would do. That does indicate a serious lack of judgement. Then again, the content of his Wash Post does as well.

    Secondly, he tried to create an international incident/distraction by accusing the Saudis, when the leaker was his betrothed’s brother (for $200k).

  10. Richard Hershberger

    I am struck by how TPV’s faith in Amazon wasn’t shaken by, for example, its posting audio books on Kindle Unlimited without the authors’ permission and without paying them. Until they got caught, that is.

    There are innumerable lesser examples of Amazon operating in ways counter to the interests of independent authors. Most of them are not clearly immoral behavior like the audio book fiasco, but rather show Amazon to be an eight hundred pound gorilla indifferent to lesser beings.

    I have said it before, but it merits repetition: Any business plan that includes “rely on Amazon” is fatally flawed. It may work in the short term, but it is a ticking time bomb. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use Amazon, but you should be prepared for the explosion to happen at any moment. Have a contingency plan.

    • Any business plan that includes “rely on Amazon” is fatally flawed. It may work in the short term, but it is a ticking time bomb.

      Any business plan that does not consider the short term has no long term.

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