Since its founding in 2005, video sharing giant Youtube has grown from a largely unfiltered and directionless site into a veritable content-hosting juggernaut with its own dedicated community and profitable business model. The website owes much of its success to Google, who purchased the company for $1.65 billion, a bargain in retrospect, given the company now pulls in upwards of $6 billion annually thanks to its various advertisement partnerships. That said, the company has undergone periods of controversy, especially relating to its relationship with both content producers and advertisers. A recent incident with Youtube’s own parent company humorously highlighted this issue.
The Google Chromebook, the company’s Linux-based laptop first launched in 2011, recently hit the market with its latest iteration, the Chromebook Pixel. Unsurprisingly, the company leveraged its ownership of Youtube to help advertise the new hardware, launching a campaign of brief commercials to appear before monetized videos on the site. Unfortunately for Google, the very algorithm they developed for quickly spotting and flagging spam on Youtube identified the company’s own Pixel advert as spam and promptly deleted it from the site. While Google has since rectified the issue, countless users managed to screencap or record quick footage of the unplayable, flagged link to the video.
While only a minor and humorous error in and of itself, the incident still reminds many of the recent problems surrounding Youtube’s recently updated video flagging policy. Though brief, the mistake effectively gave Google and Youtube a taste of their own medicine, forcing them to experience what content producers who rely on the site have been experiencing over the last five or so months. The so-called “ad-pocalypse,” as it was dubbed by users, occurred after wide sweeping changes were made to how ad revenue is shared with content producers. Around April of 2017 Youtube instituted new guidelines that demonetized many videos based on both algorithmic and advertiser determinations about the appropriateness of the videos content. This policy effectively killed some Youtube channels as profitable endeavours, with some content producers reporting up to a 95 percent decrease in profit-sharing from ads, with much of their content being demonetized entirely.
With Google’s own ad being flagged as spam, it is clear that there is a fair bit of truth to user complaints about the inefficiency of Youtube’s content flagging algorithm. Given the recent launch of Youtube Red, a subscription service that removes ads entirely, it’s clear that Youtube’s relationship with their advertisers is still in a period of transition, though what the future holds for both advertisers and content producers is unclear.