We were just a few minutes into the interview when Christine, known as IvyWinter, told me about her first experience with YouTube demonetization. ‘I am definitely not as big as all of these other channels and maybe they don’t even see me, and then, funnily enough, when you reached out to me, literally that day my video got demonetized’. Christine has around 1,315 subscribers on her channel. Even though she might think of herself as a small channel, she is still experiencing a problem plaguing YouTube, including the smaller community of Disney YouTubers.
The Adpocalypse started happening in YouTube back in April 2017. Advertisers started leaving or pausing their campaigns with YouTube because it was placed on unwanted videos.
‘So when that news came it was sort of a really unfortunate series of events because this all originated back with this idea of ads running against videos that advertisers would absolutely want nothing to do with it, in particular the more extremist stuff like terrorist recruitment videos, stuff like that, like violent videos’, Rob from Rob Plays commented, a Disney YouTuber that has risen to 50,000 subscribers since one of his videos went viral. ‘It got to the point were advertisers were pulling their money out and YouTube was put in this really hard position were, as a company, they already aren’t making a profit’
Ever since the Adpocalypse happened, YouTube has established new ways to determine if a video can be considered ad-friendly, depending on the content. This makes sense as videos with unsuitable behavior or terrorist-related should be banned from the platform. What people don’t know is that these policies have affected many family-friendly creators, demonetizing their videos as a result. Christine expands on this issue:
What the problem is, as is being discussed, is that this algorithm doesn’t make sense. The fact that its demonetizing family-friendly channels that literally have nothing wrong it blows my mind. I can’t even believe that DSNY is being hit in every single video. And it’s crazy to me because he is speaking to somebody at YouTube like: ‘Hey you keep doing this’. All they tell him is that there’s a glitch or whatever their reasoning is. But you think, is there really nothing they can do on their back end to say ‘okay this channel is good, were consistently realizing there’s a mistake here, we can exclude him’?. I don’t understand from their perspective why this can’t be fixed.
Jack from the DSNY Newscast channel has been one of the most affected YouTubers. With over 60.000 subscribers, he has been gradually demonetized as his channel started taking off. Since April of 2017, Jack has been producing three videos a week, doing 12 newscasts of Disney-related content per month. He stated that each video takes at least 6 hours of planning, scripting, recording, and editing. ‘And that’s six hours of time you can’t spend with your friends, or your family, or you can’t have much of a social life because, especially with what I’m doing, when the news breaks I need to drop everything and get in front of that camera, make sure people know about that’.
At the beginning, Jack didn’t had much of a problem with demonetization. As the months passed, it started ramping up:
The first video became flagged in August, and I believe it was the Indiana Jones one. And I thought ‘huh, this is a bit weird’. I was annoyed about it but, okay, it’s only one. And later on I had another one and another one. Around 3 or 4 in August. And 4 out of 12 isn’t a whole lot. It hit me a little bit, but I didn’t mind it too much. Then in September, it ramped up a little bit more, around 6 of my videos if not 7 were flagged. In October around 8 of them were flagged. And then every single one in November was flagged, it was demonetized. And that’s really damaging as a creator. Not only it is discouraging to think that there’s 12 videos there, were I’m spending 12 times 6 hours (72 hours). It’s a lot of hours. You’re spending three whole days working on content and you don’t get any sort of monetary, you know, remuneration for it. And I don’t do it for the money, but will need to have money in life to exist. That’s the way the world works.
In the case of Rob Plays, he started gaining momentum after a video called Why Disney Water Rides Smell Different went viral, back in May 2017. He has only been affected by 3 or 4 of his videos. Even though he is in a less complicated position, he tries to understand why the videos are being flagged, even though they are family-friendly. Rob never thought it would affect him, as well as other Disney YouTube channels:
I never thought it would come to Disney. I thought: ‘oh well, the topic is so family-friendly and child safe that there’s no way the algorithms going to go this far and start hitting things’, but it became pretty clear very early that this algorithm wasn’t just hitting more than it should; it was hitting almost everything. It felt that there was no video that was going to escape this.
Christine and Rob understand the side of the advertisers; no big company is interested in putting their ads on content that damages the company’s reputation and overall message. Even though the algorithm isn’t working as it should, Rob considers it is the only way to take on the problem. As 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, an automated solution is the only way. What worsens the problem is that this process is still making mistakes and it isn’t showing any signs of progress.
When a video is demonetized, YouTube allows you to appeal for a review made by a human. This takes around 24 hours. For a creator to be able to appeal a video, it should get more than 1,000 views. This places small channels in a terrible position, when they need to wait and reach those views until they can appeal. Christine had to deal with this, as her videos could take some time to reach the amount of views required:
What’s even more interesting is that when you try to fight back on that and you’re a small channel, they actually hit you with a message that’s kinda like ‘if you don’t have X amount of views, we don’t really look at this yet’. So I was like, OK, because I’m smaller you don’t even care trying to give me the money back.
Even if you get a 1,000 views within the first few hours, it could take a couple days after your video is reviewed and cleared. In the case of Rob and Christine, this doesn’t affect them as much. Most of their videos are designed as evergreen content, where it doesn’t matter when you watch them. Jack’s case of the DSNY Newscast is different. Rob expands on the topic:
I consider myself lucky because a lot of my videos are intentionally designed to last forever. You could watch that water video any time of the year and it makes sense whereas Jack at the DSNY Newscast, he does news. After a week, those videos lose their relevance. So he needs to get the views right upfront. A day or two of that review could just be really bad for were his channel could go in terms of earning revenue and making a job out of it. I feel lucky because for most of my videos they don’t get the most of their views until a couple of weeks after the video is out. By that time, even for the new videos were I had issues with, they were already cleared out and everything was fixed. It’s not a huge problem for me but at the same time I see it happening to my colleagues that have these other channels and its tough but there is no real… I don’t know what the solution could possibly be besides just sort of powering through this.
When a video is flagged, YouTube doesn’t notify you. Christine says the only way to know if a video is being demonetized is by looking at your videos and checking to see if it has ‘the funny yellow icon’:
Way back, when I first had a few videos demonetized. (…) these were old, video game videos. About a month or two ago, they did give me a little notification once at the very beginning that said ‘some of your videos might be demonetized, click here to see which ones’. They made sense to me because they were horror video games so I could see how maybe it was seen as violence or whatever. Okay, I get it, that’s fine. I put the connection together. But that was the only time I got a notification. When this one happened, there was just nothing, I had to check. And I feel that’s what is happening to a lot of people. They check their videos every day to see if something is being demonetized because they’re not being told about it.
Even if demonetized videos are revised and cleared, the problems keep happening on the side of the creator. For YouTube channels, the first 24 hours of a video are the most important. In some cases, the first day of a video makes up most of the views for the creator. This is the case of the DSNY Newscast; the videos lose relevancy as time passes and most of the money he could get from his videos happens during those first 24 hours. If Jack has a video demonetized, his revenue is affected. Not only that, but YouTube’s algorithm won’t bring him as much traffic as he could, because the site isn’t making money from him.
Christine states that this policy hurts small channels not only for a single video, but for the possibility of reaching out new subscribers. ‘I feel that’s really disheartening for somebody who is small and starting out and if they get demonetized you get this message that says you need to get this amount of views to even look at your appeal. I think that’s going to make a lot of people feel like ‘forget this, I don’t even want to bother to try to grow (…)’.
Taking into account that YouTube isn’t a small company, it is difficult to say they’re tackling the problem as smooth and fast as it should be. In Jack’s opinion, YouTube is only dealing with their worries, without considering it’s the creators who make the platform as popular as it is:
When there’s a thing that affects them, in terms of advertisers saying were not going to advertise anymore on your platform due to ISIS/terrorist content, racist content, things like that being published in the platform, they act very quickly if it affects their bottom line, if it affects their income. But when it affects the people who, if it wasn’t for us creators who create the content, there wouldn’t be a YouTube. If it affects us, they don’t act fast, and they’re not acting on it whatsoever. And it’s a middle point to say ‘oh there’s mistakes in the algorithm’. Well, number one, you shouldn’t release an algorithm that has mistakes in it, and by saying there’s mistakes they’re admitting fault, that they got a faulty product which we can’t file a class action lawsuit against them. (…) It’s a vicious circle, but YouTube are not doing anything about this. And I hope they do, because it would be better for everybody involved.
This demonetization has raised the problem that most creators can’t make money only out of ads. In most cases, they have two or three streams of income that allow them to deal better with these problems and provide better content for their audiences. Among the most common alternate options for income are:
- Direct Ads: creators make deals with sponsors to promote their products/services within the video. This allows creators to have extra income and have sponsorships without YouTube as the middle person.
- Merchandise: creators make T-Shirts, stickers, and other related products with the logos of the channel, inside jokes, and quotes from the creator. Some are done in limited quantities and sold through sites like TeePublic or Cotton Bureau.
- Donation: Popularized by Patreon, creators offer an easy way for their audience to donate to the channel. In the case of Patreon, depending on the amount donated you are part of a tier with some benefits. Some of the benefits offered are private livestreams, exclusive merchandise, behind the scenes content and early access to new content.
Rob and Jack have done some of these options as a way to keep the channel going and rely less on YouTube’s ads. Also, multiple income streams allow you to eventually become a full-time content creator. ‘I think that was always the case’, Rob explains. ‘Even before the Adpocalypse I always felt personally that was something that needed to be setup before I could make that move’. Rob also mentioned that the ad rates are getting worse year after year.
Rob also explains that to prepare as a full-time YouTuber, you must consider yourself a small business:
If you’re going to become a YouTuber full time, you’re starting your own business. It’s a very media-centric business and its on this channel and people call it YouTubing, but it is basically starting a business. To put all of your eggs in one basket, whether there’s an Adpocalypse or not, is a bad idea. I think that what this did was highlight that to people that are aspiring to do this full time or they are already doing it full time. (…)
I asked Jack about a recent merchandise store he launched and his Patreon campaign, as I wondered if it was a reaction to the demonetization issues or part of his roadmap as a content creator. He was candid about it:
To be honest, the store is something I stupidly promised back in June. I opened my mouth and said ‘hey guys, these shirts will be coming soon’. And then I researched, then D23 happened and you lose track of time and you don’t have enough time in the day to do it. The more I researched, the more complicated, I couldn’t do it with Redbubble, they had some bad reviews, also there were bad reviews about Teepublic, and numerous other shirt stores. And I said that I can’t let people who watch my videos have a bad experience, so I thought I’ve got to do it myself. And when I did it myself I realized how little money there is in merchandise. If you do it on a massive scale, if you’re a PewDiePie or a Casey Neistat, it makes sense because its an economy of scale; they’ll buy thousands of shirts at once and that brings down the cost per unit. Whereas mine, I’m not buying a thousand at a time to bring down the cost per unit because I don’t know what size people are, I don’t know which variation they’ll want. I just don’t have the money to be able to buy at that quantity. I don’t have a business loan for it. I don’t have any of that so I just had to do it bespoken to peoples specifications. So the store itself doesn’t actually make a lot of money whatsoever. It’s a lot of work for the store and, for the amount of work that went to it, it’s nowhere near profitable. You know, just because of the amount of hours you put into it divided to the amount of money I’ve made out of it, it’s well under the minimum wage. It’s like 4 pounds an hour. (…)
An the end, the store was more a reaction to his audience that the demonetization. He wasn’t sure about making a Patreon campaign:
The Patreon thing is something that I so desperately didn’t wanted to do. People asked me back in July in my first Q&A if a Patreon was coming and I originally recorded an answer saying no, I don’t want to do Patreon. I cut that because I just didn’t want to say no and then had to. I wasn’t sure about it. So when it came to actually having to do it, it was a very difficult decision because I don’t want to actually. The whole idea of the channel was that the price of entry is your fandom, it’s free. You know, you should love Disney and you should have a place were you can show that you love Disney. I just wish Disney could do what I’m doing. If Disney did what I was doing, then I would be out of the job on YouTube.
Many YouTubers are employing this strategy of multiple streams of income, as it allows them to don’t have all their eggs in a single basket. Christine mentioned that most big channels like Roberto Blake are constantly doing sponsorships and speaking gigs. ‘Its interesting and I wonder if that worries YouTube’, Christine mentions, ’because they made them popular but now they’re finding this other avenues to make money and they’re going to leave and just do that’.
Ever since YouTube, creators have wondered of what could come next as a competitor. Sites like Vimeo and Vidme. Vimeo has been considered a more artistic focused site, relying on features like Vimeo On Demand. Vidme had an interesting proposition, but the site announced that it will shut down on December 15th. So, as of right now, YouTube has had a monopoly in regards to video content for almost 10 years.
Rob has been reading in forums and groups were creators hope that a YouTube competitor, like Vimeo, could take over. He believes that’s not going to happen:
I used to say that the only company that could take down YouTube is YouTube, with their own decisions. But even that I don’t know if I fully believe anymore because what’s required to create the YouTube killer is impossible at this point. It has to offer everything that YouTube offers, yet also have something new and unique that would make people go ‘oh I’ll put my videos there instead of YouTube’ or ‘I want to watch videos there instead of YouTube’. The resources just to create a YouTube clone. Even (Vimeo and others) don’t come close to YouTube’s quality.
Rob believes that the problem is more about the way advertising is handled and how the platform could work better around it. ‘The fundamental business of advertising needs to shift, change in a different direction’. He considers that multi-channel networks (Maker Studios, Awesomeness TV, Vevo) could be a solution, were the networks help you with advertisers:
Taking care of you means, we’re working with advertisers and having direct advertising deals done, we can ensure your video is flagged as monetizable-safe or advertising safe, and then we get you that revenue. (…)
Besides that, he doesn’t see a future were another platform takes over:
If people could understand what it would cost them to do what they do on YouTube on their own, they would understand it’s a steal that we could actually use YouTube for free. That I get to upload and have down-to-the-second detail about people watching my videos. Just all the data and the fact they run ads and I get a cut from that advertising and that I invest zero dollars a month for that technology is amazing. (…)
Christine considers that it could be the time when another competitor comes in:
Maybe this is the moment when someone comes around and makes a little chaos against YouTube. (…) I do think that for a lot of these big YouTubers is all about their brand and they’re thinking a lot about it right now.(…)They think how can I make a brand about myself so that when I have to leave YouTube for whatever reason I can carry my subscribers to whatever platform I’m going next. (…) I still think it’s going to take time for something like that to happen. This is a very slow burn. There’s been issues before for the last couple of years. (…) I believe it’s going to take a little longer.
Not only is a future competitor something that is difficult to see right now, it is also difficult to transition from one platform to the other. Multiple streams of income make it easier to move to another platform, but it does not solve the idea of convincing subscribers to the next platform. ‘I think a lot of people would have to move all around the same time to convince that average viewer to go blind instead of going home and logging on to YouTube, I’m going to go home and log onto this website because this has more of the videos I want to watch that YouTube does(…)’, Rob states.
Rob explained that most full-time YouTubers try to work out long-term plans that allow them to be financially independent from the platform. He will try and be a full-time YouTuber starting January and his focus is having as many backup plans as possible to have enough income streams:
I made this decision that I would quit my job and try to do this full-time for a year and then my videos started getting demonetized and my first initial thought was like ‘oh maybe I shouldn’t then’. But if I’m doing it the right way that shouldn’t stop me because I need to have a plan B, C, D, and E, you know. This is just going to force me to do that and hopefully will force others to do that.
As Facebook is doing a push to have more video content, I raised the topic during the interview with Christine. She mentioned that, even though they have had a focus on video, people don’t consider Facebook like a media platform. Other problems Facebook faces as a possible competitor is that it doesn’t have an easy way to build an audience like YouTube.
Jack at the DSNY Newscast considers he could try other platforms and see if it could be better than YouTube for his content:
There are rumors of Amazon coming up with their own streaming service to rival Google and I can’t wait to see what that is and if it’s better, I will make the move. At the end of the day, whatever I can do to keep the channel going, and if I can keep the channel going on Amazon, I’ll keep trying the channel on Amazon. I’m not tied to YouTube, I’m tied to the audience and the topic, that’s what I care about. I’m an Apple guy. I don’t care about Google, I don’t care about YouTube, I don’t care about them as companies, I care about them as what they can provide for the audience. They’re not providing the best experience. Their apps are not great on the TV or Android. They don’t bring new features that often.
What all of these channels have in common is the fact that they love Disney and they want to keep bringing Disney content to their audiences. It doesn’t matter the size of the channel, this is an issue affecting the Disney community that should be explained.
Recently, TPMVids has been vocal about the problems they are facing with demonetization and the different ways they’ve tried to solve the issue. The channel has decided to re-upload all the videos where the videos were demonetized and their comments disabled. I tried to reach out TPMVids to talk about the situation, but I received no response.
Among other channels that I tried reaching out were Sarah Snitch, Leo Camacho, Fresh Baked Disney, among others.
These creators work endlessly to produce content all of the community enjoys. As an enthusiast that lives far away, it is my way to stay in touch with what’s happening. Whether it’s DSNY Newscast, IvyWinter, or Rob Plays, they all share their love for Disney to their audiences.
I keep coming back to the fact that YouTube’s algorithm doesn’t make sense. These YouTubers make sure that their titles, tags, and keywords don’t fall into any negative category that may lead to their videos being demonetized.
IvyWinter got a video demonetized about how to plan a last minute trip to Walt Disney World. Rob Plays currently does videos related to Disney history and some opinion videos. Jack mentioned that he evades naming ‘Tower Of Terror’ because the algorithm might flag the video for this reason. He even tries his best to cover negative Disney news, like the John Lassetter case, in the best way possible.
Even though some creators try to have multiple streams of income, they might also end up in an uncomfortable situation. Patreon recently announced a decision were patrons will start paying an extra fee for each pledge. This decision was criticized by patrons and creators alike. Patreon decided to push back from the changes.
The next time you watch a Disney video on YouTube, it’s time to realize that these creators are people. Some aren’t making a living out of it and they do it as a side project, like IvyWinter. Others are trying to make a full-time living thanks to their audiences, like Rob and Jack. But the fact is that YouTube’s policies are affecting the Disney community as well as many other channels.