We all love YouTube, it’s become the favorite “TV channel” of many and its value as a communal video archive shouldn’t be underestimated. However, not all that glitters is gold. I’m not talking about the considerable amount of trash content that just wastes your time or even worse, spreads misinformation. No, I’m talking about something else. Fairly recently I noticed something really annoying. First I thought it was some kind of mistake or bug, but no…

Ads, ads, ads – but this isn’t the problem per se

If you are still among those who haven’t signed up for the paid-for YouTube Premium subscription you will probably have noticed that there are increasingly more ads (pre-roll, mid-roll, post-roll – you name it!) integrated into videos. Nowadays, basically every YouTube channel that has more than 1000 subscribers and therefore qualifies for monetization and the YouTube Partner Program makes use of that feature: You allow YT to place ads from different companies and individuals on your videos and in return earn a small percentage of the money YouTube makes with the ad business. This is fine. If people create good content for YouTube and attract viewers, it’s only fair if they get a small share for their work. So one reason why you are seeing ads on videos is because the channel owner actively chose to monetize his/her content. There’s a second reason where the channel owner hasn’t actively chosen to monetize but is instead forced to for a reason. This is the case when he/she uses copyrighted content from a 3rd party, the classic example is a song or more generally speaking: music. In such a scenario, the earnings from the ads are used to pay a small fee to the copyright owner of the music. In my opinion, this is a good compromise to allow the usage of 3rd party content for creators while at the same time copyright owners are compensated for the usage of their work. This is fine as well.

This is not fine!

Now here’s the rub: Up until fairly recently, if you were the owner of a YT channel with fewer than 1000 subscribers and didn’t use any 3rd party copyrighted material in your content, there would be no ads in your videos. I’m managing two small YouTube channels (one obviously is the smartfilming channel) which as of now don’t qualify yet for monetization. Yet, I recently noticed that YouTube actually places ads on all the videos despite me/us owning the full copyright! What gives? I get that YouTube is aggressively pushing viewers towards signing up for their Premium subscription to get rid of all the ads when watching but how dare they dump a load of ads on videos that neither have actively chosen to do so nor have used 3rd party copyrighted material? This means you are providing content with your own copyright and YouTube makes money off it while you are not seeing a single cent! Isn’t that just amazing? I confronted the YouTube support with this and they said that yes, according to their latest terms of service, they may place ads on your videos without your consent. Here’s an excerpt from their revised TOS (effective as of July 1st 2021 outside the US, in the US already since November 2020):

“YouTube’s right to monetize. We’re gradually starting to serve ads on a limited set of brand-safe videos on channels not in the YouTube Partner Program or not under a monetizing agreement. There won’t be revenue share from these ads, but Creators can still apply for the YouTube Partner Program once they reach the eligibility criteria, which remain unchanged.”

An ad-free experience for your viewers is beyond your control

Sure, I will have agreed to those terms somewhere along the way and I’m not questioning the legality of it. I do question the morality though. And what’s quite funny about the “brand-safe” wording: Apparently you could escape the forced monetization by making content that YouTube doesn’t consider “brand-safe” to place ads on: Maybe spice up your next video with a little violence, misinformation or nudity? Oh well, in that case they might just ban your video or block your channel altogether. The main problem for me isn’t the fact that I don’t get any money from this forced monetization, it’s the fact that there’s no way to make sure viewers of my channel can watch my content free of ads (and aren’t we all annoyed by those ads?) – the only way is to assume everyone has a Premium subscription but that’s a bold assumption. I get that YouTube/Google/Alphabet has to make money but for the sake of it, don’t they already make enough money with ads on bigger channels? Do they now have to go after the small ones as well? And to ad(d) insult to injury, in a way where only YouTube itself profits, but not the owner of the channel? If you are very apologetic of YT, you might say: “But YouTube’s giving you the infrastructure!” Yeah right, but what kind of an argument is that really? Not a very convincing one if you ask me. I think a channel should have the option to opt out of forced monetization!

What would be a good alternative to YouTube?

What to do with this mess? Quit YouTube? It’s quite clear that YouTube is far and away the biggest and most popular video platform on the web, reaching the biggest audience. I do have a dormant Vimeo account as well and I think the platform is excellent for more artsy stuff like short films etc. but not exactly for product reviews and tutorials. The only other alternative I can think of from the top of my head is DailyMotion but it’s relevancy is rather limited and I would probably have to read through their TOS to find out if they do the same thing as YouTube. Instagram and TikTok have a very limited maximum video length and are also not the best fit for my content. My Twitter channel as a primary outlet? Videos disappear to quickly down the timeline… There is still the option to host the videos directly on WordPress where I’m running the blog – the storage capacity is quite limited though and there will be no audience outside the blog. So, alas, no ideal alternative in sight so far.

What do you guys think of all of this? Would be really interested in your opinion!

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