YouTube gave anyone with a camera the chance to be a video star, but that doesn’t mean those experts and influencers with thousands of subscribers are beholden to the platform.
Several popular YouTube personalities have recently abandoned the Google-owned platform or moved content to an alternative video-sharing site. In a video posted to the very site that built his following, Philip DeFranco explained why he is taking his daily news and pop culture show elsewhere.
"I don’t believe I can thrive on this platform," he lamented.
DeFranco was particularly critical of YouTube’s "video suppression," meaning videos that are blocked from appearing on YouTube’s homepage, Trending page, or its Up Next or Recommended tabs. Videos are suppressed when algorithms identify content as "mature" or inappropriate for advertisers. Content creators have criticized YouTube for a lack of clarity about how these algorithms work.
Chad Latz, chief innovation officer at Burson Cohn & Wolfe is seeing vloggers leave YouTube and believes the exodus is financially motivated.
"The ability to monetize views through ad revenue has become increasingly difficult," says Latz, noting that YouTube’s regulations require that creators accumulate 4,000 hours of view time on their channels within one year and have at least 1,000 subscribers to be eligible for the Google AdSense platform.
Channels that fail to meet that threshold can no longer make money from ads.
"The cost and time invested in creating quality content is not worth it for some," explains Latz, noting micro-influencers will be particularly hurt by the change.
Missy Voronyak, group director of social media and influencer engagement at W2O Group, started hearing about disgruntled vloggers about six months ago, and notes their unhappiness has implications for marketers.
"We, as PR professionals, will need to think more broadly about the video-based influencers we partner with to reach their audiences because it might not be on YouTube," she says. "They are looking at new platforms to better monetize their expertise."
Voronyak believes audiences will follow them away from YouTube – "as long as they have something relevant and interesting to say.". Voronyak points to sold-out live events staged in movie theatres nationwide with Minecraft vloggers, and contends if fans follow personalities in the real world, why not to other digital platforms?
Cavan Reagan Reichmann, senior partner at Carmichael Lynch and Carmichael Lynch Relate, where he is social media engagement team lead, says the industry may be reaching a point where brands should look more at the influencer rather than the platform.
"The question shouldn’t be ‘Are they an influencer on XYZ platform?’ but ‘Can they help us get our message across regardless of where the consumer connects with them?’" says Reagan Reichmann. "It is important today for an influencer to get in front of a consumer who is flipping constantly on their phone between every social channel."
In a statement, YouTube refuted reports that it is abandoning original content creators, such as an article in Wired that declared, "YouTube's ditching vloggers, old-school celebs are back again" in reference to YouTube’s announcement of partnerships with the likes of Hollywood stars Will Smith and Demi Lovato.
"YouTube is committed to the growth and success of our community, and we are continuing to see momentum from creators," the company states, noting channels on its platform earning five figures annually grew by more 35% and those earning six figures grew by more than 40%. "We have continued to offer more ways for creators to earn revenue beyond ads, introducing features such as Subscriptions and Super Chat to help channels earn directly from their communities."
In an open letter to its creative community, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki outlined last month how the platform is working with creators. The company has more than doubled the number of creators receiving personalized update emails, and it is testing recurring sponsorships with a set of creators as another possible revenue generator.
The young challengers will no doubt build a narrative that they are more creator-friendly than YouTube. In April, Twitch hired Rachel Delphin, former head of product comms for Twitter. It has also invested in presences at major gaming events around the world and PR and social media comms, says a Twitch PR director who goes only by the first name Chase.
"On top of these channels, our community has amplified the appeal of streaming on Twitch given our mission of helping creators make a living entertaining and educating their fans," he adds.
Where they’re going
They may have smaller audiences than YouTube, but experts say brands should keep their eyes on growing video platforms that compensate content creators with new revenue models.
They include DTube, which bills itself as "an alternative to YouTube." Viewers pay content creators in bitcoin on the nascent platform.
Others are subscription-based. Owned by Amazon, Twitch is a streaming video platform that allows users to watch games being played live or on demand. It also has a service called IRL (In Real Life), dedicated to streamers and vloggers on a range of topics. It was launched in December 2016.
Meanwhile, Patreon empowers content creators to run a membership-based business. With its name a play on the word "patronage," the five-year-old startup said this week that it has paid more than $350 million to content creators.
Over the last 5 years, creators have earned over $350 million on Patreon. Here's what our team thinks about that: pic.twitter.com/aRttJ2nnjl— Patreon (@Patreon) May 8, 2018
There are about 100,000 creators on Patreon including YouTube defector DeFranco. He is also on Twitch and is a partner in a recently launched video-to-video website and app called Snakt.
High-tech PR firm Mighty PR has been working with Patreon.
"There are a ton of YouTube influencers leaving because advertising really is a broken model in terms of paying the artist," says Candace Locklear, cofounder and partner at Mighty PR.
However, she says it is early days for most brands to look outside YouTube.
"The defection is happening, but it is not happening fast enough that most brands have been looking on other platforms quite yet. YouTube is still the gold standard, and it is going to take a long time to unwrap that," says Locklear. "It takes time for companies to even understand where to find people, and it easy to understand YouTube."