As you might have guessed, the theme of this post is the one-two punch YouTube is hitting us all with as we slide into 2020; the FTC ruling on COPPA violations, and YouTube’s Terms of Service changes.
Now, when it comes to the FTC and COPPA and you making sure that your content is clearly labeled as made for kids or not, YouTube has little control over this because they have to comply with the law.
However, when it comes to YouTube's own rules such as community guidelines and Terms of Service, they have complete control and they're changing the terms of service which is causing a lot of video creators to absolutely lose their minds again.
YouTube’s New Terms of Service 2019
Here is a link to YouTube’s new Terms of Service. If you read for long enough, you'll come across this section:
Terminations by YouTube for service changes. YouTube may terminate your access, or your Google account's access to all or parts of the service if YouTube believes, in its sole discretion, that provision of the service to you is no longer commercially viable.
Now, when you read that passage in isolation, as a video creator, how do you interpret those words? I think there is only one natural conclusion that everybody comes to. If my videos can't generate money for YouTube, potentially YouTube could cut me off the service, and to be fair, given everything else that's going on right now, that is a reasonable assumption.
This sounds like a double whammy for kids’ content channels because the FTC and COPPA rulings mean that those channels can't use targeted ads. So they are going to generate a lot less income for both themselves and YouTube. So if those channels are a lot less commercially viable, why is YouTube going support those kids’ channels?
A lot of YouTuber’s are panicking because their channel is small or their earnings are low or even nonexistent, and YouTube may terminate their channel come December the 10th when these new terms of service come into play. Here's team YouTube's consistent response to all of these queries:
To clarify, the commercially viable section is not about terminating accounts because it's not making money. It's about discontinuing certain features or parts of the service because they are outdated or have low usage. This does not impact creators or viewers in new ways. So thanks for clarifying that, YouTube - on Twitter. It would have been helpful if you’d have made that clear in the TOS to begin with though.
Why YouTube Changes Terms of Service
Given YouTube's explanation on Twitter, this is how I interpret that particular Term of Service. Remember YouTube annotations? Maybe you do, maybe you don't. Now, I seem to remember that YouTube said they removed annotations because they couldn't be used on mobile devices, and info cards and end screens did a more adequate job. That’s an example of an outdated piece of software on the platform, not commercially viable, removed from the YouTube service.
Now, annotations themselves never generated revenue for you or YouTube, but thinking five or 10 years down the line, what about Super Chats? They're a big thing right now, and a lot of channels earn a lot of income from them, but in the future, it might not be commercially viable for YouTube to continue to support this feature.
So what if they remove it? Well, if that Term of Service wasn't there you might be able to legitimately argue to YouTube hey, this is worth 80% of my income on YouTube and you've just taken that away from me without any ruling on why you should do that. Well, that's why that TOS potentially is there. So to summarize that particular part of the new Terms of Service:
It's not about your channel not being commercially viable for YouTube, it's the tools and services that YouTube provides you not being commercially viable anymore.
Generally speaking, it wouldn't make sense for YouTube to terminate channels that don't create revenue for the platform because many channels create goodwill for the platform.
Take #TeamTrees, a perfect example of people uniting on YouTube for the greater good. I sincerely hope that the majority of video creators making content about #TeamTrees are not trying to jump on the trend to earn a bit of AdSense revenue, but are joining a cause to raise $20,000,000 to plant 20,000,000 trees. As a fundraiser, this is about raising money to do something serious and good in the world, and YouTube is a platform that allows us to do that. YouTube themselves have even pledged money towards that fundraiser, so strictly speaking, that's not commercially viable because they're losing money from it.
You could argue that supporting fundraisers is commercially viable because it puts YouTube in a great light, but that’s a pretty cynical point of view. Also, think about the channels and videos that never monetize their content either because they don't want to or they don't have the chance, but they still contribute to the YouTube ecosystem. Those videos are suggesting other videos that maybe have advertisements running on them, and YouTube states that the ad revenue stream and the search and discovery algorithm are not connected so it doesn't matter whether or not you monetize your content.
If your videos are being watched, they are valuable to YouTube. And if YouTube decides that they do want to remove all of these channels that are never going to make a dime for the company, then YouTube I think at this point has lost its soul. Another way of thinking about this is that YouTube could remove those features that they don't consider commercially viable to provide for free.
For example, livestreaming or the Community Tab or YouTube Stories. Instead, creators pay a premium, say $5 a month, to use these tools so that YouTube is guaranteed to earn income from them and it makes them more commercially viable. Again, right now I'm spitballing, and none of this is likely to ever happen, but I'm trying to interpret this Term of Service in a way that doesn't make you think that YouTube is going to get rid of your channel because you don't make any money from YouTube.
Strictly speaking, as a channel, VidIQ is one of the worst offenders on YouTube for not being commercially viable because we have over 400,000 subscribers, and this year, we've got 20,000,000 views, and yet we've not earned a single dime for YouTube or ourselves through ad revenue because we've chosen not to monetize our content. We want to make an impact on the people watching our content, the audience.
We want them to be educated and inspired to make their own content on YouTube. We are complete advocates of the platform, and it just so happens that we have a tool that you can download to help grow your channel and it's available off of YouTube. So yeah, does YouTube really want to get rid of us as a channel? I would sincerely hope not.
I would like to think that our channel and the tools that we provide have assisted millions of video creators to create a countless number of videos that have generated billions of views for YouTube, and if that's somewhere close to the legacy that we leave on YouTube if we're not commercially viable, you know what? I think we'll take that.
Three Reasons Why YouTube WILL Terminate Your Channel
Now, having said all of that about one particular part of the new Terms of Service on YouTube, there are a few other parts that raise a quizzical eyebrow. YouTube may suspend or terminate your access, your Google account, or your Google account's access to all or part of the service if:
- You materially or repeatedly breach their agreement,
- YouTube is are required to do so to comply with a legal requirement or a court order,
- YouTube reasonably believes there has been conduct that creates liability or harm to any user, other third party, YouTube, or their affiliates.
If you break any of the rules on YouTube from their Terms of Service, they can take you off the platform or if YouTube feels that you harm the service, the users, or anyone involved in YouTube, they can do exactly the same thing. I think the basic principle of all of this comes down to one simple sentence in the entirety of the Terms of Service:
> Content is the responsibility of the person or entity that provides it to the service.
YouTube is under no obligation to host or serve content. Remember this, YouTube is rented ground that you get for free. It allows you to broadcast your video content to a global audience with an Internet connection and a camera. YouTube covers all of the costs, and they give you back some of the money when you are collaboratively able to earn it. But they are both gatekeeper and keymaster. If they want to change the locks, they are welcome to do so.
Now, it's up to us whether or not we want to continue to use the service. Remember, we are not obligated to put our content onto YouTube. We can take it to Instagram, Twitter, Twitch or elsewhere. So there is a fine balance here and YouTube is really struggling to try and find that balance that works for both them and us, but that's where we stand.
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