Online Video Producers Caught In Struggle Between Advertisers And YouTube

Apr 14, 2017
Originally published on April 14, 2017 6:30 am

It's been lean times for some of YouTube's most popular video producers. In the last two weeks ad rates have gone down as much as 75 percent. The producers are caught up in a struggle between advertisers and YouTube over ad placement.

In recent weeks, reports showed ads from major brands placed with extremist and anti-Semitic videos. Companies such as General Motors, Audi and McDonald's pulled out of YouTube. That means there's less money for everyone.

Now YouTube is trying to convince these companies to come back. And that's meant adjusting the algorithm that places ads.

David Firth, a British animator whose dark comedic videos were bringing in a good living, says recently his earnings have "taken a huge nose dive."

Firth says to bring back advertisers, YouTube began to stop running ads with some videos.

"They've decided that there are a whole new set of rules for what you can and you cannot put an advert on and make money off," he says. "And they didn't tell anyone. They just suddenly started removing people's advert revenue."

Firth says ads have been taken off videos that have the word "die" in the title — even if it's someone dying of laughter.

It's not just entertainers who are having problems. It's advocates like Real Women, Real Stories, which has nongraphic videos of women who've struggled with problems like physical abuse.

"Real Women Real Stories is a platform for women to say actually whatever they want to say, to speak their own mind," says Matan Uziel, the founder of the channel.

Uziel was using the money from ads to produce more videos. And then the ads just stopped.

Jamie Byrne, a director of enterprise at YouTube, admits their recent adjustments to the ad-placing software aren't working perfectly just yet. He says over time the algorithms will get better at knowing the difference between a site fighting violence against women and one that promotes it.

The algorithms "need to take some time to learn where they should show ads, and where they should not," says Byrne. "And so by nature they start out kind of with a smaller set of inventory that they serve ads on."

Byrne says one of the ways the software will learn is if YouTube producers challenge a bad choice.

YouTube is also making changes that give advertisers more control over where their ads are shown. They can pick categories, like news or sports, and even particular sites.

"If an advertiser has a specific content creator or organization that they don't feel they're comfortable with," Byrne says, "they can always tell us that and we can implement those types of controls for them."

So if an advertiser has conservative politics, maybe they don't want to run ads with MSNBC videos.

The stakes are high for YouTube. According to some analysts it stands to lose as much as $750 million this year if it doesn't bring back advertisers. And according to YouTube there are millions of video producers who have learned to rely on money from ads.

Producer Matan Uziel says he understands YouTube is in a difficult position. He's starting to see some ads return to his videos.

"I don't hate YouTube. I like YouTube," he says. "I think that because we all [are] very much dependent on YouTube, we have to know how it actually works."

For now, it seems like YouTube is trying to figure out how its new system actually works, too.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

People who produce content on YouTube are bringing in less money. They say their ad rates have gone down by as much as 75 percent the last couple weeks. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, the producers are caught in a struggle between YouTube and its advertisers.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: YouTube has plenty of lighthearted entertainers who depend on the ads the company places on their video channels.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Want to forget that horrible illness and move on?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Take this pill, and forget you were ill.

SYDELL: David Firth is a British animator whose dark comedic videos were bringing in a good living.

DAVID FIRTH: However, recently, it's taken a huge nosedive.

SYDELL: Part of what's happened is that big companies, such as General Motors, McDonald's and Audi, pulled out of YouTube after reports of ads running next to extremist and anti-Semitic material. So there's less money to go around. To bring back advertisers, YouTube began to stop running ads against some videos.

FIRTH: They've decided that there are a whole new set of rules for what you can and you cannot put an advert on and make money off. And they didn't tell anyone. They just suddenly start removing people's advert revenue.

SYDELL: Firth says ads have been taken off videos that have the word die in the title, even though it's someone dying of laughter. It's not just entertainers who are having problems. It's advocates, like Real Women, Real Stories, which has non-graphic videos of women who've struggled with problems like physical abuse.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Then he started touching me and hitting me and kicking me.

SYDELL: The founder of the channel is Matan Uziel.

MATAN UZIEL: Real Women, Real Stories is a platform for women to say actually whatever they want to say, to speak their own mind.

SYDELL: Uziel was using the money from ads on the videos to pay for more of them. And then, the ads just stopped. YouTube is making changes to the way its algorithms plays ads. Jamie Byrne, a director of enterprise at YouTube, says the machines will get better at knowing the difference between a site fighting violence against women and one that promotes it.

JAMIE BYRNE: They need to take some time to learn where they should show ads and where they should not. And so by nature, they start out kind of with a smaller set of inventory that they serve ads on.

SYDELL: Byrne says one of the ways that the software will learn is if YouTube producers challenge a bad choice. YouTube is also making changes that give advertisers more control over where their ads are shown. They can pick categories, say, news or sports or even particular sites.

BYRNE: And if an advertiser has a specific content creator or organization that they don't feel they're comfortable with, they can always tell us that. And we can implement those types of controls for them.

SYDELL: So if an advertiser has conservative politics, maybe they don't want ads to run on MSNBC. The stakes are high for YouTube. According to some analysts, it stands to lose as much as $750 million this year if it doesn't bring back advertisers. Producer Matan Uziel says he's starting to see some ads come back on his videos, and he understands that YouTube is in a difficult position.

UZIEL: I don't hate YouTube. I like YouTube. And I think that because we're all very much dependent on YouTube, we have to know how it actually works.

SYDELL: For now, it seems like YouTube is also trying to figure out how its new system actually works. Laura Sydell, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BERRY WEIGHT'S "THE WAY OF THE DODO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.