The new policies aim to prevent advertisers from appearing alongside controversial or inappropriate content, which has been a major problem for YouTube over the past year. The changes come two weeks after the latest controversy, in which Logan Paul—one of YouTube’s most popular creators—published a video featuring a suicide victim’s body hanging from a tree.
YouTube executives said in two blog posts—one aimed at content creators and one at advertisers—that channels would only be permitted to run advertisements if they have accumulated a total of 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 “watch hours” over the last 12 months. Previously, the marker had been 10,000 total lifetime views. The change effectively means YouTubers must now reach a higher popularity threshold before they can start seeing revenue. The platform said it needed to amend its policies in order to prevent abuse from “bad actors.”
YouTube also announced that humans would soon begin screening every video from creators who participate in Google Preferred, a special premium advertising program that guarantees revenue for the top five percent or so of creators. YouTube removed Paul—who has over 15 million subscribers—from the program in the aftermath of the suicide video.
Taken together, the two new policies represent a shift toward larger creators. YouTube is now excluding extremely small channels from advertising all together, and instead focusing both its monetization and its moderation efforts on larger, more valuable channels.
“The platform was once seen as a way for anyone to find a big audience,” says Wagner. “The new guidelines are now saying, in effect, ‘Okay, you only matter to us if you’re already big.’”
Then again, YouTube has attracted countless creators by selling them on the idea that it was an open, welcoming platform on which they too could one day be a star. That dream now seems less likely than ever.
“It’s just not realistic, the continued dangling of the carrot to the public that you too can become a YouTube sensation and monetize your way to riches,” says Sarah T. Roberts, an assistant professor of information studies at UCLA and an expert in internet culture. “The bar keeps getting moved higher and higher. It’s become more and more difficult for anyone to do that.”
YouTube noted in one post that nearly all the channels affected by the new rules make less than $100 a year in advertising revenue. But losing even a tiny profit can dissuade a small creator just getting started.
“It discourages everyone else from building a channel from the ground up, subscriber by subscriber, week by week, the way so many original YouTubers did,” says Matt Wallace, a writer and YouTuber with a modest audience. “It also rewards content based solely on views and watch time, factors which favor manufactured YouTuber ‘feuds’ and stunt/shock content.”
If YouTube loses its small, upcoming creators, the site’s community will inherently change. It will likely become more commercialized; filled with popular creators diligently adhering to advertiser guidelines, brands, and media companies.