The reason why you have to be famous now to make it big on YouTube

20 August 2019


When Jörg Sprave uploaded the “FairTube” videos onto his YouTube channel, he expected that this would harm his income - as his usual audience wants to see slingshots, not Union videos. He accepted this as a sacrifice to the ultimate goal - make YouTube a better place for creators. But the opposite happened - his views exploded, and not just because of the Union videos. Those did do well, but over 90% of the additional views came from his regular clips.


The most likely reason for this is clear - the FairTube campaign was (and still is) immensely successful. A huge amount of international media coverage meant that Jörg’s name was all over the place. This seems to have been noticed by the YouTube recommendation engine. His videos started to appear in “Trending” again - where they weren’t seen much anymore in the aftermath of the adpocalypse.


Why did that happen? Well, there is a clear reason for this.


In the “glory days” before the adpocalypse, YouTube was a complete “ecosystem.” A lot of people were able to grow their channels quickly and become veritable YouTube celebrities, sometimes right from the basement of their parent’s homes. If your fans “liked” your videos, then YouTube would recommend them to others. If those liked them too, boom, a viral video was born.


YouTubers were (and still are) not generally famous. As a YouTuber, within your peer group you can be really well known - but out on the street, even a C level TV actor will be recognized WAY more often than a YouTuber with 5 million subscribers.


Why is that? Well, YouTube has never promoted their “stars” outside of YouTube. That is much different to Hollywood - those guys see their actors as valuable assets, and they invest heavily into marketing. Even if you have never watched “Avengers” - you will still recognize many actors that play leading roles in those movies. Same goes for TV and streaming series.


That is why YouTubers are generally not much talked about outside of YouTube - except if they become “generally famous” for other reasons, like scandals. As silly as it sounds, for people like Logan Paul, it was, commercially speaking, a “smart” move to make that (otherwise unfortunate) clip about the “suicide forest” in Japan. He got away with a slap on the wrist - well, he was thrown out of the Google Preferred Program - but all of a sudden the whole world was talking about him. He was making headlines everywhere. He used to be “just a YouTuber,” but now he is a widely known person.


This is relevant, because when the adpocalypse happened, YouTube seems to have changed the factors the recommendation engine takes into account when suggesting videos. We don’t know exactly what they did, because the changes are secret. But the effect is clear: you see far fewer independent YouTubers in “Trending” and “Recommended” than before, and more corporate productions and celebrities. Since, as far as we know, YouTube does not invest much in promoting even their top creators, those poor hard working people cannot make it into the much desired “trending” bars. Hollywood or TV celebrities have the upper hand, always.


YouTube did not communicate these changes as they probably realized that they would not sit well with creators or users. But celebrities and “mainstream” productions are of course much more “brand safe” than independent YouTubers. After all, if celebrities cause scandals, YouTube won’t be blamed. But YouTube was blamed for the Logan Paul scandal. We can assume that they learned from that scandal: brand safety became a much bigger priority.


Now the best strategy to make it big on YouTube is to make it big on TV or in movies first. Or simply cause a big scandal, ideally one that will not cause a lifelong YouTube ban - not so easy these days.


Is that fair?


Well, if YouTube would have started in the spring of 2017, yes, you could say that this is fair. But YouTube did not start in 2017. They started in 2006, and in the “golden years” of the creators (2012-2017 - or even earlier, depending on who you ask) a great many people quit their regular jobs and became full time YouTubers.


In our opinion, YouTube betrayed those people by making it more difficult for them to appear in recommendations. They were replaced by Hollywood and TV celebs. Of course all this happened in secret, without even announcing the change.


YouTube carries responsibilities for all Creators. We demand that YouTube returns to a fair system. There are several ways this can be achieved, for example by investing in marketing efforts to make YouTubers generally famous, or simply by changing the algorithm back to focus more on YouTubers.


We really want to discuss all this with YouTube in the (hopefully upcoming) meetings with them.