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YouTube is working to bring advertising to edgier content as demonetization woes grow

The Verge logo The Verge 11/21/2019 Julia Alexander
Susan Wojcicki wearing a suit and tie © Photo: Getty Images

YouTube is experimenting with placing advertisements for more mature audiences on edgier YouTube videos in an effort to address demonetization woes.

Videos that might be more violent in nature (like stunts, challenges, or simulated action) largely have not had advertisements run on them over the last couple of years. That also goes for videos that cover sensitive topics; news commentator Philip DeFranco often talks about his videos being considered unfriendly for advertisers, despite white-listed channels like CNN and MSNBC running ads on their videos talking about the same subjects.

Now, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki writes in a letter to creators that her team is working to find out which advertisers might be interested in having their ads run in front of these types of videos.

“We’re working to identify advertisers who are interested in edgier content, like a marketer looking to promote an R-rated movie, so we can match them with creators whose content fits their ads,” Wojcicki wrote. “In its first month, this program resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads on yellow icon videos [referring to an icon that appears to creators when their videos are demonetized].”

Running ads for R-rated movies on channels like RackaRacka, where two brothers often create sketches based on Mortal Kombat finishing moves or DragonBall Z fights, could be a game-changer for creators who want to produce more adult-oriented content. Still, these videos face other issues, like recommendation problems, that Wojcicki’s letter doesn’t address.

Gaming YouTubers, in particular, have been frustrated by these limitations around ads. Many gaming YouTubers have suggested that unless they’re playing something obviously family-friendly — like Minecraft, Fortnite, or FIFA — their videos are unlikely to receive ads. YouTube often holds summits for creators for different communities, and at a recent gaming summit, Wojcicki was asked by moderator and well-known YouTube creator Matthew “MatPat” Patrick about demonetization problems their community faces daily.

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“YouTube as a platform, we act on behalf of our advertisers,” Wojcicki told Patrick. “So I looked at what advertisers want to advertise on, they opt out of topics like sensitive subjects. Gaming is actually not high up on the list. Gaming is a relatively newer area for advertisers. We’ve actually been trying to invest in advertisers understanding why this is an important vertical.”

Part of that is working with YouTube’s policy team to examine what’s classified as violence in videos. Right now, violent real-world footage and simulated graphic violence in video games are listed as the same. Creators who go through the self-certification process (a checklist available to creators that essentially helps YouTube determine what’s advertiser-friendly and what isn’t) therefore have to check off their videos as having violent content despite the substantial difference.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that our policies need to differentiate between real-world violence and gaming violence,” Wojcicki wrote in her letter to creators. “We have a policy update coming soon that will do just that. The new policy will have fewer restrictions for violence in gaming, but maintain our high bar to protect audiences from real-world violence.”

Trying to navigate which types of videos are eligible for advertisements and which ones aren’t puts a deep strain on creators. Not knowing what will pay off leads creators to upload more often, trying to figure out what works. This can lead to burnout, a problem affecting a large portion of YouTube creators. High-profile creators like Elle Mills, Sean “Jacksepticeye” McLoughlin, Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, among many others have struggled with burnout.

It’s an issue that Wojcicki “asked the product team at YouTube to look into,” according to her blog post. The CEO added that she wants “to encourage you to take care of yourself and invest in recovery,” but she understands that creators often feel like they can’t take a break from uploading. The product team went over data “from the last six years” and found “good news.”

“Across millions of channels and hundreds of different time frames for breaks, the same thing was true: On average, channels had more views when they returned than they had right before they left,” Wojcicki wrote. “If you need to take some time off, your fans will understand. After all, they tune into your channel because of you.”

The rest of Wojcicki’s letter to creators focuses on other issues that affect people and the platform at large, including incoming Federal Trade Commission regulations surrounding the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the European Union’s crackdown on copyright content (Article 17). The letter can be read in full over on YouTube’s creators blog.

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