The YouTube dilemma – where to change?

The YouTube dilemma – where to change?

In the last few weeks, millions of advertising dollars have been ripped from YouTube by major corporations and it has been interesting to read the commentary on why this uprising is gaining traction so quickly.

Most of the noise being made by advertisers seems to revolve around situations where a corporate ad is inadvertently paired with questionable content on the YouTube site. Many viewers have a tendency to assume there is a relationship between the ad and the content it is positioned beside – and advertisers are now saying that YouTube’s lack of control over advertisement positioning severely impacts their brand safety.

Corporations are now arguing that if an advertiser’s ad appears next to an unethical video (be it sexual, hate-sponsored, terrorist-based or other questionable content), the viewer may conclude that the advertiser supports this issue, which would directly affect the advertiser’s brand. C-Suite executives in large corporations have swiftly concluded that this will impact future business and as a result, are starting to pull their advertising.

Aside from brand safety, another darker, yet lesser known point in this controversy is the fact that a portion of the ad spend on YouTube goes directly to the content provider, regardless of whether the content is ethical or not. In this case the advertiser is actually funding the content generator, further justifying the concern about the connection between advertiser and content. For the most part, however, this hasn’t been the thrust of the issue.

While the corporate reaction has been very public in the last few weeks, businesses shouldn’t be fooled – this process has been commonplace with programmatic ad buying on digital platforms for some time. For advertisers, the economics of this trade off have always been that they receive great reach for relatively cheap costs – while knowing that there is a risk of showing up in an occasional bad placement (even given that blacklists have been created). And the fact still remains today – when there is little or no moderation of the uploaded content, there is bound to be unfavourable pairings.

So the question remains unanswered – who is to blame?

  • Is it YouTube for allowing the extremist content to be posted and for monetizing that content before considering moderation?
  • Is it the agency for placing the ad buy to gain the large audiences with the client’s available budget, knowing there is no moderation?
  • Is it the advertiser, who may not fully understand the consequences of the programmatic online buy, but trust their agencies to get the best deal?

In analysing the current situation, it would seem that all three groups would need to bear some of the blame – hence the need for an adjustment in the current process.

Over 400 minutes of user-generated content is uploaded to YouTube every minute of every day. It will be interesting to see how YouTube responds to these sensitivity categories moving forward and if these changes/adjustmetns satisfy the advertisers’ need for brand safety.

Obviously, the advertiser boycott will eventually end. Lets hope that the end result of this process is the development of a more accountable environment.