Why YouTube Can’t Support Its Own

How business realities are pushing YouTube away from the creators that have made it great.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the creative team behind ‘Santa Clarita Diet,’ a living-dead dark comedy on Netflix starring Drew Barrymore, would be teaming up with YouTube Red for their next series. This news isn’t entirely offensive, in a vacuum, but, in the real world, it’s just another in a long line of very traditional projects being arranged behind the scenes at what used to be the very not traditional YouTube, a trend that continues to hurt the creators that made and continue to make the platform such a ubiquitous, transformative destination.

It’s no secret that YouTube is a platform in turmoil. Creators are hurting as sweeping changes to how the site monetizes and polices content have led to across-the-board reductions in ad-revenue, the primary source of revenue for most all creators, and the very thing that makes it possible for anyone to turn content creation into a career outside of the typical system. Let’s be real: even at its height, ad revenue was often enough for creators to just barely scrape by. Many continued to make videos because they both loved what they were doing and held on to the hope of increased future success. Now that it’s much, much worse, a great many creators are faced with an existential crisis, and it won’t be long before they start to disappear, driven by necessity to more typical sources of income that rob them of their time, and will, to create.

That’s why this announcement, and previous ones like the reveal of projects featuring Ellen Degeneres, Kevin Hart, The Rock, Rob Huebel, and many more, have struck such a sour note; they’re an indication of where YouTube wants to go, and what it wants to be: Netflix.

Traditional production studios and television channels don’t need to worry about whether their shows or movies contains inappropriate or controversial content beyond their control that will scare away business partners. They don’t have this constant stream of user generated content, so big it requires artificial intelligence to police and manage, most of which costs more money to host than it generates. They make their own shows, with their own stars, that they can control. Budget. Promote.

YouTube, as a brand, is more than healthy. It’s essential. Even as corporatized content has increased its footprint on the platform, the number of eyeballs on screens has only increased. It is the defacto source for video, and if they create their own content, people will watch it. That kind of societal real-estate is invaluable, and means that, really, if they flipped a switch that eliminated the majority of their user generated content and replaced it with a catalog of their own shows and movies, they could find themselves ending up making more money. A great deal more money. Considering the site, for all its strengths, still has yet to turn a profit, I think it’s clear why the winds appear to be shifting as they are.

Creators need to prepare for a world without YouTube. They’ve made it clear where their priorities lie, and if you’ve made it this far into this blog you shouldn’t have any trouble seeing why. Create streaming content. Offer subscriptions. Sell swag. Figure out how to create a diverse portfolio of revenue streams so that, whenever YouTube finally does cut you loose, whatever that looks like, you don’t just up and sink. The landscape of the future might be one without YouTube to rely on, but there will still be user generated video content, somewhere, building an audience and generating revenue. So long as there are people to watch it, the market, in some form, will still be there. Put yourself in the best position to survive long term, and you’ll have a place in this new world of content creation, whatever it looks like.

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