DEFY Media hurts content creators

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On Nov. 6, DEFY Media suddenly closed its doors, leaving many of its employees and YouTubers who relied on them for revenue in the dark. A multi-channel network that struck contracts with numerous YouTubers, DEFY promised consistent payment. This was especially relevant for content creators suffering from YouTube’s draconian demonetization policies, which continue to leave ad revenue an unreliable source of income.

The closure was a shock to several people, as DEFY had several powerhouse brands like Smosh and Clevver, along with $70 million worth of investments from two years ago. There were some warning signs, such as DEFY laying off eight percent of its staff and closing its programming advertising business in March, as well as selling Screen Junkies in July. Since the closure of the company, YouTubers such as Chris Stuckmann have come out and shared their experience, discussing the suffocating contracts, failed payments of due ad revenue, and lack of compensation for sponsored videos. Anthony Padilla questioned how the company could somehow burn through their $70 million worth of investments, saying that he only ever saw “a fraction of that money” himself.

The reason I am bringing up the entire situation with DEFY is that it’s another reminder of just how incorporated YouTube has become. It’s gone from a hub for video sharing and original content to a cynical platform that adheres to executive goals and business interests. The trending page is now full of talk shows, music videos, top ten lists, and the rare content that YouTube deems as advertiser-friendly, which formerly included Logan Paul.

The reason ad revenue has been unreliable for YouTubers is due to the “adpocalpyse.” This situation arose when PewDiePie had a series of controversial, anti-Semitic videos picked up by news outlets, who showed how these sorts of comments were being monetized. As a result of this, several advertisers pulled their ads, and YouTube began making less money.

The problem is that this is a loss for everyone. For advertisers, they lost a significant audience, because a lot of young people use YouTube (and don’t know what Adblock is). For YouTube, they lost a lot of money due to less ad revenue. But YouTubers faced the worst of it, seeing much less income than before and no longer being able to have a consistent revenue stream. This pushed YouTubers to turn to alternate platforms such as Kickstarter, Patreon, and sponsored videos, or else to sign with multi-channel networks like DEFY in order to have a stable income.

It’s ironic that YouTubers had to sign contracts with another corporation so that they could make money on the platform of a different corporation. Google and YouTube’s job is to be the middleman between content creators and advertisers. They have to keep the interests of both in mind and come up with the ideal solution to satisfy both. The issue is that YouTube took the route of punishing content creators instead. Their new monetization system is full of vague phrases, such as flagging “sensitive” or “sensational” content. With the implementation of this system, many YouTubers have faced the issue of their videos being demonetized regularly. This was combined with companies flagging several videos for copyright claims, despite the fact that all of the videos they flagged were valid under fair use. While YouTube has a system for disputing copyright claims, the fact that they let companies take down videos at will is troubling. YouTube also had a system where they allowed some content creators to be part of their exclusive ad revenue program. Through this program, these YouTubers were guaranteed consistent ad revenue, but it was really only for large YouTubers like Logan Paul (whose suicide forest video wasn’t even demonetized at first).

There are straightforward solutions to all these problems. For starters, make it clear that putting an advertisement on a video does not equate to sponsoring said video. The whole point of advertising is for companies to let people gain exposure to the product they’re selling. They shouldn’t care about what the content of the video is. If companies do care about the content, then YouTube should put in an extensive opt-out system for what types of content or specific videos companies don’t want their ads to be playing on. This will solve the issue of demonetization entirely, and YouTube will only need that system for serious violations of their community guidelines. YouTube should also protect their content creators by actively creating better rules about when companies are allowed to make copyright claims. Finally, they should compensate all the YouTubers who have been unfairly treated by DEFY and have lost a lot of money due to not being paid before the company’s shutdown, and YouTube needs to have a better system in place to prevent multi-channel networks from exploiting YouTubers.

YouTube shouldn’t even call it “community guidelines” at this point. They should just call it “corporate conduct.” Take a look at YouTube rewinds over the years and you can see how it’s gone from being focused on its content creators, to being focused on the models and trends that are attractive to the shareholders. It’s an unhealthy direction that won’t change anytime soon, since there is no reason for YouTube to stop. They now have a premium subscription service and are starting their own original content, clearly trying to compete with companies like Netflix and Hulu. For YouTubers, it’s wishful thinking at this point that YouTube would honor its roots as a content sharing platform.