One night at the beginning of November, tech reviewer Ben Schmanke published a YouTube video comparing the cameras on the iPhone X, the Samsung S8, and the LG V30. YouTube initially classified the video as suitable for all advertisers, indicated by a green dollar sign icon. When Schmanke woke up the next morning, the classification icon had been changed to a yellow dollar sign, which means the video can only make money from a limited number of advertisers.
“[YouTube] said this shouldn’t happen, but obviously it keeps happening,” Schmanke said of the switch from green to yellow. “Overnight I gained a good 10,000 or 20,000 views, so that’s lost money on both my part and their part.”
Schmanke is just one of several YouTubers who has had issues with YouTube demonetizing or limiting ads on their iPhone X videos in recent weeks. Dylan Hong, who runs a small tech channel, says his video about iPhone X accessories was immediately flagged as a yellow-icon, limited-ad video. He wasn’t really concerned about lost revenue, but he was surprised.
“I make super advertiser-friendly, family-friendly videos,” Hong told The Verge. “It was just an algorithm fail that a bunch of iPhone X videos from really reputable reviewers and much smaller channels just got auto-flagged from the beginning.”
As reported by TechnoBuffalo, YouTube’s algorithm began marking some new iPhone X videos as “unsuitable for advertisers” at the end of last month. Although more imaginative fans theorized that was Google’s way of boycotting Apple, it seems more likely that it was just the latest in a string of issues with ad revenue and algorithms on YouTube. Schmanke and Hong both said that after they appealed the classifications of their iPhone X videos, YouTube restored monetization within a few hours. Casey Neistat, who also had one of his iPhone X videos flagged immediately, tweeted that YouTube fixed the error about an hour later.
The bug received a lot of attention in the YouTube community because it affected high-profile users like Neistat, MKBHD, and Justine Ezarik, but YouTube says the issue was not widespread. “We looked into reports that iPhone X videos weren’t running ads, and there is no data to support there is any kind of trend,” a YouTube spokesperson told The Verge. “In fact, the vast majority iPhone X videos are monetizing just fine across the platform. We encourage creators to appeal if they feel their video has been wrong demonetized, and every appeal helps our advertising systems get smarter over time.”
YouTube also says total creator revenue is up “significantly” year over year.
Even though YouTube acted quickly to fix the issue, YouTubers are still frustrated by the company’s ongoing problems with demonetization and transparency. The main concern from creators seems to be that they don’t understand why particular videos get demonetized, especially when it’s something as seemingly uncontroversial as a phone unboxing. And because YouTube’s algorithm makes decisions immediately and at scale, it can be difficult to figure out what causes a certain video to get flagged.
“Before I posted the iPhone X video, I knew people were saying the algorithm was flagging that term exactly,” Schmanke said. “And I don’t know if it was because of ‘X,’ like X-rated or XXX… but you would think input some code on the back-end to ignore ‘iPhone X.’”
YouTube suggests that creators upload videos as unlisted or private to check the monetization status before a video goes public, but many creators don’t want to wait when it comes to timely news and reviews.
— Marques Brownlee (@MKBHD) November 3, 2017
About a month ago, Neistat posted a video to his channel titled “DEMONETIZED DEMONETIZED DEMONETIZED,” after YouTube demonetized one of his travel vlogs. In the video, Neistat argues that the advertising “controversy” has become “a catalyst for the YouTube community to speak out about what upsets them about YouTube.” He argued that the company was considering its community second to advertisers, when in fact, the community should be treated as the most important part of YouTube. Soon after, YouTube announced it was releasing a “performance improvement update” that it claimed would result in 30 percent fewer videos being flagged for demonetization.
But the iPhone X demonetization error happened after this performance update, and there will likely be similar bugs in the future. Creators just want YouTube to handle communication differently. “I trust that YouTube is working hard on their end,” Hong said. “What YouTube is trying to do from a machine learning standpoint is really difficult… but their community engagement side is terrible.”
— Justine Ezarik (@ijustine) November 3, 2017
YouTube insists that every appealed video will “receive a human review,” but some creators think they shouldn’t have to appeal regularly at the whims of YouTube’s algorithm. Both Hong and Schmanke echo Neistat’s recent suggestion that bigger YouTube channels should receive an automatic human review, rather than lose views while appealing a video.