On Tuesday YouTube rolled out a giant shift to the platform that alienated tens of thousands of creators and could forever transform what it means to be a YouTuber.
Previously, in order to monetize their videos and become inducted into what is known as YouTube's Partner Program, creators had to have a total of 10,000 total views throughout the entire lifetime of their channel. This sounds high but was relatively easy to meet for tens if not hundreds of thousands of creators.
But this week YouTube announced that it was raising the threshold for monetization, requiring creators to rake in at least 4,000 hours of watch time within the past 12 months and maintain a subscriber base of at least 1,000 fans. According to YouTube, the changes will only affect a small number of channels, 99% of which made less than $100 in all of last year.
Small-time creators who no longer met the threshold received tersely worded emails informing them that they were being kicked out of the Partner Program that many had been in for nearly a decade.
They were also informed that they would lose access to monetization features like the ability to upload custom thumbnails to their videos or link to a Patreon or merch site.
"Sure you don't make a lot of money as a small creator," said YouTuber Sean Poole by phone. "But you feel valuable and feel like what you're making is worth something. Pennies is better than not getting paid at all. Lots of YouTubers feel super demoralized right now."
No group is more demoralized than those who just met the previous threshold only to have the rug pulled out from under them.
"I just was re-eligible a month or two ago for ads and am now screwed again," said YouTuber Stevie Kreimendahl via Facebook Messenger. "Sure I was not earning much, but it is something. I understand the stricter guidelines for the top advertising earners, but now YouTube is providing no way for smaller channels to start earning as they grow." The new rules also penalizes a genre of clone channels that simply reuploaded other people's content.
The move generated immense backlash among the small to mid-sized YouTuber community across social media and some have felt that this could signal an end of an era for the platform.
In a private Facebook group for small YouTubers, members spent Wednesday lamenting the change and suggested moving to greener pastures on other platforms. One creator tossed out the idea of moving to Amazon's forthcoming video service, though how that product will cater to creators remains to be seen.
"This move feels like an insult more than anything," said Eden, a YouTuber who runs a channel called Helixx VR with only 912 subscribers. "The main problem is that monetize content tends to come up higher on search rankings, so it makes it more difficult to grow our channel."
Daniel Martin, a YouTuber in the United Kingdom echoed the same concerns. "I've been hit too," he posted in the group. "I don't care about the money. What I do care about is YouTube will not look favorable towards my videos in the search rankings. Which will make it harder to gain any traction. It won't push what it can't make any money off of."
Many small YouTubers voiced their anger with the change the only way they knew how: by taking to YouTube.
A creator named Riley Kyle Dignan uploaded a video on Tuesday titled "YOUTUBE SCREWS OVER SMALL CREATORS. AGAIN," with the hashtag #YoutubeIsOverParty just 40 minutes after he received word via email that he would be losing monetization capabilities.
“I’ve never been paid by YouTube, never been paid out, but I have monetized my videos, and I’m literally nine cents away from getting paid,” he said in the video. “But I don’t even know if I’m going to get paid anymore by YouTube because of these new policies, because if I lose all access to AdSense and the YouTube Partner Program, am I even going to get the $100 that I did earn?”
Dignan added the move will censor small-time and particularly queer creators who may not have a far-reaching voice on the platform.
Another YouTuber named Christine Barger, who saw little profit from her videos, begged fans to simply leave her videos on in the background so she could meet the 4,000-hour threshold. "Just let them run on your computer while you're watching TV or something," she said in between tears.
Small-time creators can't command big brand deals and don't generate massive revenue like the he platform's biggest stars.
However, they think it's unfair for YouTube to strip their ability to grow when they've done nothing wrong, while stars like Logan Paul can post graphic or disturbing content and still be able to monetize.
At least one YouTuber blamed Paul directly for the platform's newfound advertising scrutiny saying on Twitter, "Also forgot to thank Logan Paul for helping to crush the small YouTuber dream. They were making pennies a month with the hope of making more, now they make nothing."
As YouTube grows, and creators increasingly make a full-time living on YouTube, the platform seems to be refocusing its efforts around supporting larger creators— and the brands that buy ads on their channels— more consistently. Allowing brands to place ads on small channels, some with less than 100 followers, with largely inactive audiences isn’t sound business judgement.
"More creators than ever are earning a living on YouTube, with the number of channels making over six figures up over 40% year-over-year," the company wrote in its announcement. "In 2018, a major focus for everyone at YouTube is protecting our creator ecosystem and ensuring your revenue is more stable."
Several YouTubers speculate that these new parameters will forever alter the type of content that succeeds on the platform.
"Take animators," Poole said. "They can only make maybe one three minute video twice a month, there's no way they'd reach the 4,000 watch hours. They can't just put out 10-minute videos once a week to make that watch time."
The 10-minute video has become the hallmark format for most YouTube influencers and vloggers. At that mark, ad revenue doubles and YouTubers like PewDiePie have become infamous for doing things like just leaving the camera running or pulling stunts in the last few minutes of their daily vlogs just to kill time.
According to Poole and others, encouraging this format will lead to fewer quirky artists and more Jake and Logan Paul's on the platform.
"This new system really seems to favor personality-driven long-form content and many of us would like YouTube to encourage greater variety and diversity than just the Lets Play videos," a YouTuber named Ray R who runs a small channel called Vacation Impossible said. (Lets Play videos are essentially when a YouTuber livestreams themselves playing a video game, many can last over an hour.)
But big YouTubers aren't out of the woods either.
While this shift certainly helps filter a small amount of revenue towards larger channels, YouTube also announced on Tuesday that its biggest channels will be subject to more scrutiny.
The company said that it would begin manually reviewing content on YouTube's most popular videos from its most popular creators. This means that humans, not algorithms will determine whether a video is problematic or offensive. According to Google, ads will only run on videos that have been verified to meet their ad-friendly guidelines.
YouTube says it will complete manual reviews of all Google Preferred channels and videos by mid-February.
The move comes after the platform received widespread backlash for content posted by Logan Paul and PewDiePie in the past year. Both are part of YouTube's most elite group of creators. Paul posted a video featuring a dead body in December and some of PewDiePie's videos were found to contain anti-semitic content.
Still, some smaller creators remain resilient in the face of these changes. On a Reddit thread and in a private YouTuber Facebook group many posted links to their channels encouraging each other to band together and support the small community.
"If you are really passionate with making videos and just keep going you'll get there eventually," said one Reddit user.