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YouTube tries to make nice with its creators

The YouTube and Netflix app logos are seen on a television screen.

The YouTube and Netflix app logos are seen on a television screen. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

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YouTube has had a bad year. One of its biggest stars, Logan Paul, filmed the body of a suicide victim. Advertisers boycotted over inappropriate content, and parents panicked over violent and sexual videos showing up in the site’s kids’ channel. Competition is also growing. Facebook is building a system to connect influencers with brands. And Instagram launched new video tools on Wednesday. So on Thursday YouTube’s chief product officer, Neal Mohan, announced new ways for YouTube creators to make money. Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood asked  Mohan if this was a response to creators being unhappy with their options lately. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

Neal Mohan: You know what I would say is the vast majority of creators on our platform are looking to do the right thing for their audience, looking to grow. Lots of creators are having success with our core monetization offering, which is advertising. The number of creators earning five figures on our platform a year is up 35 percent year on year. The number of creators earning six figures on our platform is up 40 percent year on year. So our advertising business continues to pay dividends for our creators. This is really about giving them alternative ways to generate revenue in this new amazing economy that exists on YouTube.

Molly Wood: When advertising is the metric, for example, and clicks are the metric, you start to inevitably drift toward a culture, I think, of ever-increasing stunts. That’s been one of the criticisms of the ad-based model. How much of this is also about trying to encourage a post-Logan Paul content mindset? Just better content?

Mohan: One of the reasons why I work at YouTube, why I know a lot of people work at YouTube, is because the story of these creators, the vast majority of them is incredibly inspiring. And I think sometimes people lose sight of the fact that there’s an enormous amount of good that’s being done via these creators who produce phenomenal content. So our job at YouTube, one of my jobs, is to make sure that bad actors or impersonators or other people who would take advantage of an open platform like YouTube are dealt with in a way that the creators that are looking to do good can grow and continue to thrive. That’s really the objective of everything that we try to do in terms of the products that we ship and the way that we think about our community guidelines on our platform.

Wood: I wonder about the sense of responsibility that you feel sometimes. Because clearly monetization and algorithms, those are bloodless words and they’re business for you. But they are obviously very personal for these creators, even as horrible as it is when there was a shooting at the YouTube offices. There were reports that that shooter had been upset about monetization. I just wonder how hard is it to balance this kind of responsibility for the fact that so many of these people put all their hopes and dreams into this one platform?

Mohan: Yeah, I mean it is. I think that there is a real responsibility, and the responsibility is about making sure that we can create an ecosystem that really works well from all aspects of the community so that our creators can continue to grow and thrive, that they can build careers and predictable futures on our platform. We take that very seriously. Of course, we take extremely seriously making sure that our users are safe on the platform, that we have community guidelines where content, for example, that promotes violence, etc., is off the platform. And then finally, we have a responsibility to our advertisers and brands that support the creation of this great content. And you’re right, sometimes the tradeoffs on these things can be difficult tradeoffs. But our goal is to continue to focus on the long term so that the ecosystem can continue to thrive, because if that happens, users, creators and advertisers all benefit.

Wood: YouTube and online video have been really democratic, right? It’s an open platform, like you say. But obviously, as for example, VidCon gets bought by Viacom and these stars go on to make real money, you can imagine that the funnel must be narrowing, and even some of these tools, like Super Chat, can privilege fan voices with money over others. How do you see this kind of evolution of what has been such a democratic platform into a real money maker, which always changes the game?

Mohan: Yeah, I mean, I think that from our perspective, it’s really about a few things: making sure that our platform remains open but also adheres to these principles, community guidelines, that I talked about so that new creators can come on to the platform on a daily, weekly, monthly basis and find an audience, share what they have to share with the world. And what’s amazing about platforms like YouTube is we have creators that have viewership larger than many cable channels, have followings bigger than the populations of some countries. And every day there’s new creators that are emerging that hit different thresholds in terms of subscribers or views or engagement on our platform. And so, as long as that’s continuing to happen, we’re happy. And I think one of the things that’s been amazing about online video is that it used to be that online video stars aspired to, after online video, make it big on TV. And now what we’re seeing is that not just online video stars, but what we’d call traditional celebrities are aspiring to make it big in online video. And so as long as we can continue to do the right things to grow that overall ecosystem, that overall economy that exists on YouTube, I think we’re going to be creating opportunities not just for the stars of today, but the stars that are going to be emerging and the stars of tomorrow.

Wood: Although to be fair, most don’t, right? Much like most actors don’t make it to blockbuster movies. When you announced the the monetization changes for example, 90 percent of creators earn less than $2.50 a month. Do you feel like people need to recognize that? Like my 11-year-old needs to know that him to Liza Koshy is still a really long road.

Mohan: Yeah, I think the way that I would think about it is, again this is all relative, right? It used to be a world where in order to “make it big” you had to go through a gatekeeper that was maybe two or three people or entities, and now anyone with a creative idea can at least give it a shot, put their voice out there. And I think that’s in contrast to what existed before the emergence of a platform like YouTube.

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