The Decline of YouTube – An Uncertain Future For This Popular Video Platform

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For many years, I like many others, had grown to love YouTube as a platform following many different content creators that made the platform a diverse collection of videos ranging from the weird and wacky the interesting and informative. Here I will explore the decline of YouTube, it’s uncertain future and what needs to happen for YouTube to overcome these challenges.

A Bit of Background About YouTube

YouTube (which is owned by Google) set out to create a video platform allowing individual users, organisations and businesses to upload bits and pieces of video to the web. Over time has evolved and mutated into what it is today which is quite the complicated mix of the positive and negative ranging from low budget videos uploaded by the average Joe to a huge catalogue of movies from studios such as Marvel.

Big studios such as Marvel host a huge catalogue of movies on YouTube

YouTube has come a long way from its early days of video hosting, going from their first ever YouTube video to VR compatible 360-degree and 8K video playback at 60 frames per second.

First ever YouTube video

Technologically speaking, they’re progressed significantly but unfortunately have regressed when it comes to policy and the way the site is ran which we will get into more a bit later in the post.

VR compatible 360-degree style videos

Why I Decided to Write About This?

I wanted to write about this topic as I feel a lot of people have ignored the decline of YouTube or have been out of the loop in regards to the rules and practices that is resulting in a nose-dive for the platform as most content creators are considering either jumping platforms or quitting all together due to the way YouTube and its policies have been impeding growth for many channels and content creators.

Firstly, just a bit of information to those that don’t use YouTube too heavily – in 2019, YouTube isn’t just a place where marketers shove their content or a place where kids upload their karaoke videos. Currently in 2019, it has become a vast platform that in many ways surpasses the offerings of cable television with channels of content offering full episodes and seasons of content that are of the same production quality as what you would expect to see on traditional TV / cable stations. Some channels have been churning out content regularly for over a decade and to say that thousands of people have secured their livelihoods via YouTube illustrates how significant and detrimental even small changes can be when implemented without warning or consideration to the users that have made YouTube the platform it is today.

So, When Did The Decline of YouTube Start & Where Did Things Go Wrong?

Forced Google+ Comments Integration

In 2013 Google announced that YouTube would be receiving forced Google+ integration into each video’s comment section. This meant that in order to comment on videos, users would need to create a Google+ account in addition to their already existing YouTube account just to be able to write comments. This was met with anger and frustration from the YouTube community – both viewers and creators alike were furious for a multitude of reasons. Unintuitive setup wizards, illogical UI choices & dialog boxes all while forcing people to somewhat remove their anonymity online by having to use their real names in most cases.

Creators were forced to set up elements of their channel all over again – now with the added Google+ features that they couldn’t opt out of. To be honest, the whole thing was a total mess that confused veterans of the site in addition making it more complicated for new users that just wanted to interact with their favourite content creator and their community.

The nightmare continued as channel owners would start to receive their video comment notifications in their Google+ inbox, making Google+ profiles near impossible to use for those with large channels and personal pages.

It’s easy to see what Google and YouTube were trying to do here – online trolls are a problem on nearly every internet website particularly those with high traffic and we’ve all seen how toxic comment sections can get on YouTube, particularly when it comes to opinion and politics. Also, Facebook and Twitter had slowly started gaining increased popularity in 2013 and Google wanted to have a piece of that pie via the introduction of Google Plus’s Circles and YouTube integration.

The problem is the way they went about this via a forced integration of one of its other properties and it being so poorly executed and thought out that it was destined to fail from the start.

In July 2015, YouTube announced in a blog post stating that they would begin to start to clean up the mess created by Google+ (although not in those words) with the announcement of the removal of the Google+ requirement for YouTube functionality. The whole thing was a total mess with many YouTubers completely disabling their comment section in protest and frustration at YouTubes lack of consideration for a lengthy period of time while all of this was happening.

The entire Google+ project was probably doomed to fail and in 2018 we produced this article announcing that it was shutting down.

The Handling of Content ID and Copyright Claims

So, over the years, there have been numerous questionable choices being made by YouTube. To continue, let’s talk about their initial detrimental policy with the way they started handling copyright takedowns.

Initially, when a specific section of a user’s video featured a small sample of copyright protected music, the whole video was removed from the site – not just the section that features a sample of the song. This could become problematic as, for example, if a Vlog picked up a few second clip of a pop song, it could either be ‘claimed’ by the copyright holder manually or be picked up by their content ID system and removed.

Users at the time would be met with the following message –

This video contains an audio track that has not been authorised by all copyright holders. The audio has been disabled

This didn’t make sense as the video could be, for example, 120 minutes of content made by the content creator. Just for featuring a 10 second clip of music, the whole video would be muted by YouTube despite streaming websites such as Twitch having a more logical solution only muting the offending section of the clip.

Eventually, YouTube changed their solution to allow the videos to stay live unmuted, but if the video gets claimed by the copyright holder, the advertising revenue generated via video monetisation gets sent to the copyright owners of the claimed content. This still wasn’t logical as this again could be a two-hour video with only 10 seconds of content that violates a copyright. The logical argument would come up again and again, Why should their 10 seconds of work be more important than my two hours of work when it comes to who receives the revenue generated by that video.

A more in-depth explanation for this policy at the time can be found on Google’s support page here.

Inevitably this method for claiming content started to be abused by copyright holders more and more and YouTube’s content creators were becoming more and more frustrated as the advertising revenue made by each video is the main source of income for users (particularly in the days before Patreon).

After years of this, YouTube has finally recognised the problem and released the following statement:

One concerning trend we’ve seen is aggressive manual claiming of very short music clips used in monetized videos. These claims can feel particularly unfair, as they transfer all revenue from the creator to the claimant, regardless of the amount of music claimed.

Clearly the subject of copyright and the implications of violating the copyright is a complicated subject and I’m aware that YouTube were trying to address the problem in the best way that they knew how to. The problem is the way that they went about it – leaving many dedicated creators on YouTube crying out for help for years and many were left ignored due to YouTube notoriously bad support unless you were a well-established channel with an account manager of sorts available for contact at YouTube. It put uncertainty out there for those that ran a variety of different channels such as video gaming review channels where video games frequently feature music.

As recently as April 2019, YouTuber ‘AngryJoeShow’ who has over 3 million subscribers at this time of writing released a video describing how he was a victim of copyright holders abusing the rules and policy put in place by YouTube. (Video contains strong language). He explains how a 4 second clip resulted in his video being claimed which he is currently (at the time of the video) was appealing. This was in no way an isolated incident and is indicative of the struggles many other content creators were also facing without the added benefit of having such a large audience and platform presence.

 

The YouTube ‘Adpocalypse’

Towards the end of 2016 into early 2017, YouTube decided to focus on promoting family-friendly content following a backlash from critics over some of the content that ads were appearing alongside. This naturally generated a lot of coverage and caused a huge number of advertisers to flee from the network or at very least flee from a huge amount of content creators. Advertisers didn’t want to be associated with the types of videos that YouTube were putting their advertisements alongside and instead of allowing YouTube to create an immediate fix, many simply seen YouTube as an unviable means of advertising – at least for the immediate future while all of this was happening.

Consequently, many YouTube content creators started to lose money due to their content not been considered adequate for advertisers – what YouTube describes as ‘advertiser friendly’. It seemed like YouTube was panicked and went from minimal curation of advertisements / requirements to being very restrictive only allowing what they define as ‘’family friendly’’ content to be monetised from summer of 2017.

Despite this being the proposed solution, YouTube still couldn’t get it right. Many questionable channels still maintained monetisation while other channels were punished despite being quite tame in comparison. The aforementioned YouTube channel h3h3 made a video about this in frustration at how YouTube were handling the whole situation.

In addition, since the Adpocalypse, they were making just 15% from their videos compared to before while maintaining the same type of content and quality of content effectively punishing them and thousands of channels like it because of the way YouTube had previously displayed their advertisements.

YouTube relies on advertisers to fund video monetisation

YouTube relies on advertisers to fund video monetisation (Photo by Szabo Viktor on Unsplash)

Adpocalypse 2.0

While still on the topic of adverting and video monetisation, things continued to get worse for YouTube in the latter part of 2017. This triggered what may refer to as ‘The Second Adpocalypse’ with, yet again, advertisers fleeing from YouTube and not wanting to be associated with the platform while it was receiving bad publicity due to instances of questionable content hosted on the platform.

This time, it was largely due to niche channels that provide content for children being considered to violate YouTube’s child endangerment policy by showing potentially harmful and ‘gross-out’ content. It’s understandable that advertisers wanted to distance themselves albeit temporarily until this was investigated and rectified by YouTube.

Around the same time period, YouTuber Logan Paul was receiving negative widespread media attention. The negative attention for allegedly uploading a video which appeared to show a dead body in Aokigahara forest known to be a frequent site for suicides. This understandably caused outrage and lots of media coverage with even the BBC covering it. Obviously, these channels aren’t just small niche sections of the internet, as of this writing Logan Paul’s Vlog channel as just under 20 million subscribers so it’s easy to see how much influence and reach these channels have.

Yet again, YouTube decided to punish regular YouTubers for this by creating a new policy in early 2018 that restricted the partner program to channels that had 1000 subscribers and upwards and 4000 watch hours per year. As you’d expect, smaller up-and-coming YouTubers were not happy as they had their means of making money removed before even getting momentum with their content and channel. For many, this discouraged many smaller start-out channels many of them deciding to either give up entirely or switch platforms.

Adpocalypse 3.0

Yep – this continued to be a problem for not only one of the biggest video-sharing platforms in the world, but one of the biggest websites in the world owned by one of the biggest companies in the world. Due to yet another Adpocalypse, even more problems were being created for YouTubers when it comes to monetisation.

In February 2019, one YouTube user had identified a strange set of results apparently due to YouTube’s algorithm at the time. This, yet again, put advertisements alongside very questionable content involving children. At this time, advertisers were only just returning to YouTube after two years away from the platform. These brands only ran advertisements for a month before completely removing them yet again following the most recent controversy mentioned above. For the innocent content creators of YouTube wanting to make the content they love, it was becoming increasingly difficult to not only make ends meet but to make content and be eligible for monetisation.

YouTube yet again set out to solve the problem – this time they decided to completely disable comments for millions of videos on the site and delete hundreds of channels. Unfortunately, yet again, YouTube treated many with the same brush and consequently well-meaning positive channels such as Special Books by Special Kids which gives a voice and platform to disabled children were affected by the new rules imposed by YouTube completely removing comment functionality from all of their videos (which remain disabled to this day). They made an emotional video reacting to the policy YouTube forced on them here which is indicative of how many other channels feel about the enforcement of these new rules.

Adpocalypse 4.0 – Present Day

In May 2019 there were complains by reports sent into YouTube regarding comments made on the platform which they believed fell under ‘hate speech’. The last few years has been quite a volatile time when it comes to politics with many polarising views. In recent times what constitutes ‘hate speech’ has somewhat changed and this article isn’t the place to get into the topic, but the reality is, its quite a tense time when it comes to political commentary or content on the platform and in general.

In order to try and tackle this problem, YouTube have punished what are considered ‘right-wing’ and other political channels with restricted monetisation and even channel deletion in some cases causing some to lash out at YouTube calling the move ‘anti free-speech’. This has sparked a lot of criticism with many saying YouTube is using their political bias to determine which channels appear in their ‘trending’ section (which we will cover shortly) and which channels are allowed to receive monetisation.

There were a few other factors contributing to advertisers leaving the platform in large numbers, but the above were some of the most significant factors that resulted in changes and restrictions on the platform.

Lack of Support for Content Creators

As you’ve probably concluded yourself from reading this article so far, YouTube content creators are not a top priority it seems – even though they make YouTube function as a platform via creating unique and interesting content in most cases. Many have been neglected by YouTube’s support service and even larger popular YouTube channels that had once had an account manager or contact at YouTube have recently been left in the dark and unable to contact anyone regarding video takedowns or monetisation queries.

By dedicating yourself to creating content for YouTube, you are relying on them to treat you fairly and in return you continue to create engaging content that drives people to the network. It seems increasingly risky to put your livelihood in the hands of a company that doesn’t seem to value the commitment or work that has gone in to making their network grow.

There are yet more examples of YouTube neglecting their talent and failing to reward to work and dedication shown by successful channels.

YouTube Rewind

YouTube Rewind acts as somewhat of a yearly celebration of viral videos and ‘best of the year’ content. They are a yearly video series of sorts featuring the year’s top content alongside the top creators that made viral and popular videos for that year.

However, on 6th December 2018, YouTube uploaded their yearly entry into the Rewind series with a video that managed to gain over 10 million dislikes in just over a week. It went on to become the most downvoted video of all time on the platform and at this time of writing, it currently sits at over 16 million dislikes. The video has Will Smith as a host of sorts, again deciding to go down a more ‘traditional’ entertainment route which contradicts the whole point of Rewind being about the creators.

In the 2018 Rewind video, the portrayal of creators and the platform as a whole was thought of by many as inconsistent, even artificial to those that truly know and love the platform.

The reasoning behind the outrage from the community can be summed up nicely by Julia Alexander‘s quote from her article about this on The Verge

Rewind boils down to a growing disparity between the platform’s true creator culture and the polished version that YouTube wants to present.

I completely agree with this – there’s a huge disparity between the true community culture of YouTube and the ideals that the company itself wants to present and push. I think due to their previous issues with copyright and advertisers fleeing the network, they want to portray a ‘safer’ more traditional view of what is ‘advertiser friendly’ rather than identifying and embracing the unique nature of having an organic community-driven video platform.

YouTube failed to feature arguably the most popular creators on the platform including PewDiePie and Logan Paul – both channels had a very successful year in 2018 with numerous viral videos yet wasn’t featured at all in YouTube’s yearly Rewind. This shows that not only are YouTube willing to neglect and ignore their creators when they’re encountering problems with their account but also that they’re willing to ignore their significance and positive impact on the platform by refusing to celebrate them in their yearly highlight reel.

YouTube has proven again and again that it puts advertisers before its content creators and every step of the way we see signs of that. One theory as to why YouTubers such as PewDiePie were missing from Rewind is that YouTube wanted to distance itself from anything seen as controversial when celebrating their network. In 2018 PewDiePie was caught up in controversy over a racist slur and other YouTubers missing from Rewind such as Logan Paul have been subject to criticism for featuring a dead body in his video as mentioned earlier. I understand the need to condemn the use of any racist language or inappropriate behaviour, but to deny their contribution to the platform over the year is wrong in my opinion.

Manually Curated ‘Trending’ Videos

YouTube has a ‘trending’ section on its website that, as the name suggests, is supposed to display the most popular and trending videos at that current moment. There are two reasons why trending is controversial at present – firstly, these videos are chosen by YouTube rather than allowing the most popular statistically to be listed in the section (which would make the most sense) and secondly, many of the chosen videos that appear in this section are missing actual content creators from YouTube and seem to favour big brands that predominantly operate and generate content outside of its network. This is yet again detrimental to the real channels that deserve exposure as YouTube fails to acknowledge these as popular videos as often as they should yet frequently promote videos from external ‘mainstream’ media sources and have done so for the last few years.

The data is clear, YouTube clearly seems to favour traditional media and has almost appeared to settle with the safer forms of content rather than embrace what made it unique and different from it. At one point in time, YouTube in many ways surpassed the offerings of traditional media by offering many varied channels displaying a spectrum of takes and opinions with independent journalism, reviews, political and social commentary and allowed a natural organic growth of these channels based on viewership and general demand. It was a refreshing ‘alternative’ to the mainstream’s heavily curated content.

It’s easy to see YouTube’s point of view in many ways, we live in a very politically and socially tense time with the rise of ‘cancel culture’ in addition to the many variations of the ‘Apocalypse’ in the past. it’s at least understandable why YouTube would want to play things somewhat safe in regards to their content but it sacrifices allowing content to naturally rise and be truly representative of what people want to consume as content.

YouTube Trending Frequently Ignores Creators

YouTube Trending should be showcasing their own creators
Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

So How Does the Future of YouTube Look? Too Big to Fail?

Despite all of YouTube’s wrongdoings and missteps, it’s forgiven by many due to there being no real alternative at present, at least with comparable features and infrastructure.

Are There any Real Competitors to YouTube?

We have seen video hosting platforms such as Daily Motion and more recently BitChute start to gain slow popularity, but YouTube currently is still home to the best content creators and channels out there. Until recently, many creators have decided to just put up with YouTubes lack of communication and constant roadblocks as its still a place where they have a community and audience of regular viewers. Even though its becoming increasing difficult to run a channel, having the ability to monetise with an abundance of advertisers is too attractive to walk away from.

However, things are starting to change. Video monetisation, as we have showed earlier, is becoming stricter and less profitable. Communication with your audience is also becoming difficult in some cases with certain channels having comments disabled due to policy change, disabled monetisation for certain topics, not being able to qualify for ‘trending’ due to subject matter – the list of limitations and new restrictions continues to grow on an almost daily basis.

I think we are approaching the point at which the straw breaks the camel’s back and with platforms such as Patreon, as mentioned earlier, creators are able to more easily diversify their income and become less reliant on YouTube income alone – particularly for those that are already established and have large audiences.

Things get complicated when it comes to finding a reliable network to call your new home, though. Despite there being no real conclusive evidence, many people have theorised that YouTube still operates at a loss and is very expensive to run. This would lead me to believe that the only way a reliable platform will emerge is if another tech giant such as Microsoft creates an alternative with strong financial backing. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility as recently Microsoft has released Mixer which competes with Amazon-owned Twitch. Both are streaming platforms that cater to creators that primarily stream video games or gaming related content. In fact, some creators such as h3h3 had moved most of their efforts over to Twitch and streamed their podcast on that network for a short time.

With these streaming sites, the monetisation options are different to that of YouTube in a few ways. Channels still have ads but also offer paid subscription tiers with exclusive benefits for the viewer. You can still view the content for free if you choose to, but subscribing typically allows for the audience to interact with chat with exclusive emotes and disables ads from playing on the channel. The creator retains 75% of the money from each subscription made to his/her channel with the rest going to Twitch. In addition to this, Twitch supports ‘bits’ and ‘donations’ which allows viewers to make a cash donation, typically along with a message that appears on the video stream that the ‘streamer’ and audience will see. This allows income via Twitch and streaming to be a bit less stressful than YouTube and provides the ability for each channels audience to directly support their favourite streamers via donations, bits or paid subscriptions. YouTube have recently tried offering similar monetisation options to certain channels, but they haven’t really seen commonplace utilisation yet as some of the features appear to need a bit of work.

Ultimately, YouTube is an example of a strong idea succeeding despite questionable decisions year after year by its management and behind the scenes decision makers. YouTube’s creators are the foundation upon which everything else on the network is built. Most of the popular channels have television-like content that retains a higher audience view count in many cases than cable television or traditional live broadcasts. It’s their greatest strength and shouldn’t be traded for more traditional media just so that they are in a safer spot when it comes to pushing content that is safer in the eyes of advertisers. It will be interesting to see how things evolve over the coming years, will YouTube finally learn by their mistakes or will they continue to run the platform into the dirt until a viable alternative presents itself?

Conclusion – What Needs to Happen for YouTube to Overcome These Challenges?

It’s time for YouTube to not only pay attention to creators concerns and questions by providing an adequate level of support, but to treat them with respect that they deserve at very least given that they are responsible for YouTube being where it is today. In order to turn things around for the better, as a bare minimum YouTube should look at the following:

  • Embrace your own content creators – don’t prioritise external content.
  • Allow ‘Trending’ to, for the most part, represent what is truly being watched.
  • Stop taking a lazy approach to fixing problems, treating all channels with the same brush solves one issue in the short term but creates another.
  • Continue working on a fairer content ID claim system with rights holders.
  • Provide better support, particularly for larger channels.
  • If you’re going to create a video series celebrating the network, at least include the people that make your network possible – its what we all want to see.

It will be interesting to revisit this post after some time to see how things have changed and how the future of YouTube is looking, I plan on updating and adding to this page when anything significant changes with the platform.

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