Gone are the days where a family would sit together in their living room to watch their favorite sitcom week after week. And like the conestoga wagon of the pioneers, television is going the way of history. That doesn’t mean our need for entertainment is gone. It has just taken on new forms.
YouTube is a website that made its online debut in 2005. At its heart, it was made to be a place where people could share videos with the world. And since its inception, the platform bloomed into one of the biggest websites on the internet. Its impact on how we get entertainment is huge. And YouTube isn’t only meant for enjoyment anymore. Education, breaking news, and political activism all take place on the website now. In 2016, YouTube has over a billion users and reaches more adults than any cable network.
Google bought YouTube in 2006, a decision some regarded dubiously at best. It was bought for $1.65 billion, but considering the reach YouTube has today, it was probably a worthy investment. One of the biggest changes Google made to the site was to begin monetizing some videos with ads.
If you were around before the great Google buy-out, you might remember a YouTube without any “Skip after three seconds” tabs or little annoying banners. But just as the advent of cable changed the game for television, placing ads on YouTube videos changed the way the platform operated. One of the positive results of this change is that now content producers can make a living off of their material. Many actors, comedians, and musicians now receive revenue through what used to be a simple system. If you got enough views on your videos, YouTube would place ads on them, giving you a cut of the take.
YouTube changed its advertising policies earlier this year, and the changes have made content creators nervous. YouTube users began receiving messages from the site informing them that videos deemed “inappropriate” would have their ads pulled and be demonetized. While this policy was in effect already, users were not made aware of the situation until recently.
Since YouTube is a (mostly) open platform, allowing its users to talk about controversial topics or express ideas in less than traditional ways, the current advertising system threatens many a livelihood. Youtube considers the following taboo, and has the right to pull monetization from videos based on the following: sexually suggestive content, violence, inappropriate language, promotion or use of drugs, and controversial ideas relating to war, politics, natural disasters, and tragedies. The fact that these aren’t concrete stipulations and are open to interpretation means that many YouTubers will be walking on eggshells until YouTube gives a clearer idea on what is and isn’t acceptable.
While the lack of transparency and threat to creative content is a real problem, YouTube’s decision to be more litigious about when they play ads makes a certain amount of sense. There are companies who do not want to be associated with certain types or styles of YouTube videos, and the website has a responsibility to these companies as well as its users. The automatic flagging system YouTube uses to do so may be a little extreme, since it is mostly done autonomously without sensible oversight.
As YouTube continues to grow and develop, its relationship with all of its clients will have to change as well. This latest controversy seems to be just symptoms of growing pains, and while users may feel disenfranchised, the fact that YouTube is updating its policies at all is a sign that they are paying attention and are still dedicated to being a (mostly) open platform.