Context Matters: How YouTube’s Changing Ad Policies Value Quality Content
In late 2017, several major brands paused their relationship with YouTube in response to a report from the BBC and The Times critical of ads running with content that showed “children in various states of undress and accompanied by obscene comments.” Earlier this year, YouTube announced a series of changes to its advertising platform, arguably in response to advertiser concerns arising from the report. Notably, channels on YouTube now must meet a standard of reaching 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time before they can qualify for demonetisation programs, and these numbers appear to be YouTube’s metric of quality programming.
Some have asked if these policies are fair to content creators, but this isn’t a question of fair or not. YouTube simply had to make a major policy change in order to convince advertisers that the platform took the challenge of brand safety seriously.
If we take YouTube at its word, 99% of the channels which will be impacted by these new policies have earned less than $100 per year in advertising revenues. Arguably, though, all of YouTube’s other creators – many of whom are trying to earn a living through their content – have suffered as a result of the paused advertising relationships.
The new policies that YouTube is implementing are reasonable solutions to a problem that was making it difficult for a fair number of brands to place advertising on the platform, while at the same time hurting the livelihood of responsible content creators. More broadly, this situation raises a legitimate question as to how editorial voice, or content quality, should be weighted into the algorithms driving people-based marketing programs.
As the digital marketing industry moved to algorithmic and programmatic media-buying strategies, it clearly reasoned that the editorial environment mattered less than the end person (as well as the first- and third-party data available on that person) viewing the ad. Placing an advertising impression in front of consumer #12101975 was of primary importance, cost was of secondary importance, and the editorial environment was hardly considered.
The content and comments identified in the report from the BBC and The Times are repugnant and have no place in any paid advertising ecosystem. However, YouTube’s policies go far beyond a simple ban on content that may be illegal or that violates societal norms of good taste. The policies seem to indicate a tacit admission that there is in fact a value to the editorial environment, or quality of content, that an ad appears within. Now, you can reach consumer #12101975 but do so within content or channels that have met certain metrics of quality – namely 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time.
I think that this is a great first step for the industry.
We shouldn’t stop using any data that will help place an ad in front of a consumer that they are likely to notice and to which they are likely to respond. We shouldn’t stop striving to deploy this type of programmatic creative against mass audiences. But we must adjust the algorithms that are being used to purchase people-based impressions so that they equally consider questions like content quality and type of content, as well as editorial voice. And we must make these adjustments for advertising placements within the open web as well as within discreet platforms.
Richard Guest is President, North America, Tribal Worldwide; Global Business Director – Mars, Inc., DDB Group