We learned a lot of things from the last round of #YouTubeFandomHonestyHour on Twitter, but one apparent truth that stood out was how much harder new creators and viewers are finding it to break into the community and industry that surrounds the site.
With a huge increase in production value becoming the norm for videos, as well as larger YouTubers only being comfortable collaborating with friends or channels of a similar size, and YouTube doing less to encourage the subscription model, it often feels that it’s steadily becoming harder to grow a channel. And it’s very easy for creators to turn around and blame the video giant for focusing all of its efforts on making already successful YouTubers even bigger.
But is it really the case that YouTube is turning a blind eye on the struggles of the community; or are they doing more than we realise to offer opportunities to their loyal creator base?
In the past few months, a number of creators have recently found some success in working with Field Day; a new YouTube-funded project that provides hand-picked users with a budget, production time, and a healthy portion of exposure to help them make something they’ve always dreamed of doing, but haven’t been able to manage on their own.
Field Day has worked with creators on every level; from big-time YouTubers like Jus Reign, Colin Furze and the Slo Mo Guys, to independent filmmakers with roots in the online community like Yulin Kuang. Each have been given an equal opportunity to present either something they might not have had the resources or funding to make, or something they may not have tried on their own channels; And the awesome creative results speak for themselves.
For those who’d rather keep their ideas on their own channel, YouTube seem keen on helping out a few growing creators more indirectly.
A strangely well-kept secret that’s recently been circulating around the YouTube community involves this notice that a handful of channels are starting to see appear in their YouTube dashboard:
Some creators are discreetly being prompted to “invest in their channel” via YouTube; clicking the (invitation-only) link will lead them to a page that explains the offer to take out a monetary loan with YouTube and Lending Club. No limits or amounts are specified: but there is a promise of a 5% rebate if you increase your channel’s average upload frequency or watch time, in the first year of the loan.
The exclusivity of this offer suggests that this is a serious investment for YouTube; the site are only picking channels who have shown potential for growth or already have an established audience. This is kind of understandable – in the past, YouTube have handed out money to creators through programs like NextUp and the Creator Academy, only to see little to no payoff for either party. While taking out a loan to expand your channel might seem like a last resort, there is at least an element of responsibility involved in keeping this so under-wraps.
Money isn’t always the answer, though; sometimes, especially in an industry where borrowing other content is commonplace, some creators could use a little more help legally. Amazingly, YouTube recently announced an answer to that as well. In a post from Google’s Copyright Legal Director Fred von Lohmann, a plan to protect creators who have used copyrighted content under Fair Use has been laid out. YouTube and Google plan to feature examples of fair use in creators’ content in the YouTube Copyright Center, and will be investing up to $1 million in helping creators in lawsuits where they may be struggling with copyright issues.
“We’re doing this because we recognize that creators can be intimidated by the DMCA’s counter notification process, and the potential for litigation that comes with it,” writes Lohmann.
“We believe even the small number of videos we are able to protect will make a positive impact on the entire YouTube ecosystem, ensuring YouTube remains a place where creativity and expression can be rewarded.”
Well, that’s nice.
While it might seem in the grander scheme of things that YouTube doesn’t care about creators, it’s important to look at their situation through a wider lens. With thousands of creators already fighting for recognition and hundreds more joining them every day, it’s unrealistic to assume that YouTube can afford to spend time and resources on every single channel. The site is still just a platform for your content after all, and calling yourself a “YouTuber” doesn’t mean that you, like, work for YouTube.
But what YouTube can do is endorse or invest in creators in whom they see potential, to ensure that their loyalty lies with the site (especially against increasing competition from other platforms like Facebook video and Vimeo). And if a YouTuber can show signs of succeeding on their own (i.e. creating great content and growing their audience organically), then things like promotion, loans and legal help can become worthwhile investments.
Are there some less grandiose things YouTube could be doing to help further the careers of smaller budding creators? Probably (fix the subscription box, maybe?). But it’s only fair to say that responsibility lies with the creator to invest their energy in making their content worth noticing.