YouTube’s Initiative on Brand Safety

YouTube policiesYouTube as a platform has gone through many changes over the years. Like every other Google property, the YouTube algorithm is continually evolving, as well as the standard to which they hold their content producers. Within platforms that hold the scale that Google’s properties do, it is vital that they have a firm hold on the types of content ads that are being served and stay one step ahead of those who would use the algorithm to game the system for potentially massive gains in unearned advertising revenue.

As a media planner & buyer, it is vital that I know the inventory we are purchasing on the web is of the highest quality and maintains the brand standards of those we are acting on behalf of. Digital advertising at times can feel like the Wild West. Even though there are more capabilities to track and measure campaign success than ever, validating this data and ensuring the impressions, clicks and conversions you receive are legitimate are fundamentally more important steps that we are seeing platforms take to capture more media dollars.

The Ongoing Battle of Demonetization

Understanding the social contract between platform and content creators is fundamental in regards to the YouTube platform, as this is the lifeblood of YouTube as a whole. Unlike traditional networks, YouTube relies on an ever-growing community of creators that range significantly in the quality of their content and production capabilities. There are famous vloggers with niche followings who simply record on their iPhone, while others have high-quality cameras and editing equipment to produce top-tier content, on top of employing an entire staff.

Demonetization of videos has been an ongoing issue within the YouTube platform for the past few years, spanning numerous incidents. Every time the platform runs into advertiser pushback when their advertisements are served next to content that wouldn’t be considered brand-safe, YouTube’s first reaction (rightfully so) is to cease ads from serving to a large subset of videos that fall under certain tags or categories. While this ultimately protects the advertiser, it has significant effects on the content producers and can leave them without the ability to monetize content on any of their videos, whether or not they were rightfully included within the category in question.

The most recent instance happened in late 2017, when it was discovered that there were hundreds of channels within the YouTube Kids realm that were serving content that was inappropriate for children. This content was generally repurposed in many ways with different tags and inserted into thousands of playlists to game the YouTube algorithm. In doing so, those running these channels ultimately made a significant amount of advertising revenue while also ruining the YouTube Kids ecosystem for both legitimate content creators and audiences alike.

While the removal of these channels was necessary to maintain safe content for children and make the YouTube Kids app usable again, the byproduct meant thousands of channels that created actual, high-quality content became demonetized while the situation was sorted out. In the end, this significantly diminished the clutter and inappropriate content within YouTube Kids, clearing the path for the channels dedicated to doing things the right way.

In a similar vein, YouTube announced in early January of this year that the guidelines for monetization are changing. Any channel with fewer than 1,000 subscribers and fewer than 4,000 cumulative hours watched over the past year will not be eligible for monetization. There are no channels grandfathered in from the old system, so many that were making small amounts of revenue on the side are now unable to monetize. This puts an emphasis and obvious priority on the channels that dedicate more time to growing their audience and increasing the overall value of the video product they deliver.

Automation & Promotion

One of the many defenses that YouTube has aired in the past regarding the analysis and moderation of content has been that it is impossible for each and every video to be manually reviewed. With a staggering 3B hours of content added each month (yes, Billion!), the amount of staffing required to manually check every submission is virtually impossible, especially as the platform continues to grow at a staggering rate.

This is where community moderation comes into play. However, this can be a dangerous game, as it is easy for those within the ecosystem to game the system and flag competitive content. At times this can get entire channels temporarily (or permanently) removed based on the changing guidelines of the platform. While this type of moderation tends to work best on platforms such as Reddit or other forums, moderation at the scale that YouTube currently operates is an entirely different beast.

While YouTube has a staff in place to moderate content on an ongoing basis, they do manually review some submissions, especially from their top-producing content creators. While this is by no means a catch-all for the people gaming the system, it does provide a further layer when looking at the content that is most likely to be viewed by larger segments of the YouTube audience, especially those that appear within the “featured videos” section within the platform.

The newest changes that limit who can advertise should significantly help with this and weed out exploitable trends before they become a problem that takes over the whole YouTube ecosystem. And with every policy change will come a new controversy, as we saw with Logan Paul’s channel just weeks ago. While the latest round of changes didn’t stem solely from Logan Paul, it is difficult to ignore policy adjustments that help keep content brand-safe when audiences of that size are in the mix.

YouTube has continued to weather the storm. As the premier digital video platform and search engine, they are facing many obstacles now that will continue to follow for other players in the industry as platforms around them continue to grow. Don’t expect YouTube to go anywhere. We can expect YouTube to continue to be the bar when it comes to digital video platforms across the web.