A quarter of US adults now get news from YouTube, Pew Research study finds

Around a quarter of U.S. adults, or roughly 26%, say they get news by watching YouTube videos, according to a new study from Pew Research Center, which examined the Google-owned video platform’s growing influence over news distribution in the U.S., as well as its consumption. The study, not surprisingly, found that established news organizations no longer have full control over the news Americans watch, as only one-in-five YouTube consumers (23%) said they “often” get their news from channels affiliated with established news organizations. The exact same percentage said they “often” get their news from independent channels instead.

Independent channels in this study were defined as those that do not have a clear external affiliation. A news organization channel, meanwhile, would be a channel associated with an external news organization — like CNN or Fox News, for instance.

These two different types of news channels are common, Pew found, as 49% of popular news channels are affiliated with a news organization, while 42% are not.

A small percentage (9%) were those from “other” organizations publishing news, including government agencies, research organizations and advocacy organizations.

Image Credits: Pew Research

To determine its findings, Pew Research ran a representative panel survey of 12,638 U.S. adults from January 6-January 20, 2020.

This study found that a majority, or 72%, of Americans said YouTube was either an important (59%) or the most important (13%) way they get their news. Most also said they didn’t see any big issues with getting their news from the site, but they did express some moderate concern about misinformation, political bias, YouTube’s demonetization practices and censorship.

Image Credits: Pew Research

Republicans and independents who lean Republican were more likely to say censorship, demonetization and political bias were YouTube’s biggest problems, while Democrats and independents who lean Democrat were more likely to say the biggest problems were misinformation and harassment.

A second part of the research involved content analysis of the 377 most popular YouTube news channels in November 2019 and the content of YouTube videos published by the 100 channels with the highest median of views in December 2019. This was performed by a combination of humans and computational methods, says Pew.

The analysis discovered that more than four-in-ten (44%) popular YouTube channels can be characterized as “personality-driven,” meaning the channel is oriented around an individual. This could be a journalist employed by an established news organization or it could be an independent host.

However, it’s more often true of the latter, as 70% of independent channels are centered around an individual, often a “YouTuber” who has gained a following. Indeed, 57% of independent channels are YouTuber-driven versus the 13% centered around people who were public figures before gaining attention on YouTube.

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The study also looked into other aspects of the YouTube news environment and the topics being presented.

According to YouTube news consumers themselves, a clear majority (66%) said watching YouTube news videos helped them to better understand current events; 73% said they believe the videos to be largely accurate, and they tend to watch them closely (68% do) instead of playing them in the background.

Around half (48%) said they’re looking for “straight reporting” on YouTube — meaning, information and facts only. Meanwhile, 51% said they are primarily looking for opinions and commentary.

In response to an open-ended question about why YouTube was a unique place to get the news, the most common responses involved those related to the content of the videos — for instance, that they included news outside the mainstream or that they featured many different opinions and views.

Image Credits: Pew Research

Pew also examined how often news channels mentioned conspiracy theories, like those related to QAnon, Jeffrey Epstein and the anti-vax movement.

An analysis of nearly 3,000 videos by the 100 most viewed YouTube channels in December 2019 found that 21% of videos by independent channels mentioned a conspiracy theory, compared with just 2% of those from established news organizations. QAnon was the most commonly referenced conspiracy theory, as 14% of videos from independent channels had discussed it, compared with 2% of established news organizations.

Independent channels were also about twice as likely as established news organizations to present the news with a negative tone.

Overall, the videos from the top 100 most viewed YouTube news channels assessed in December 2019, were neither too negative or positive (69%). But broken down by type, 37% of videos on the independent channels were negative, compared with 17% for established news organizations. Negative videos were more popular, too. Across all channels, negative videos averaged 184,000 views compared with 172,000 for neutral or mixed tone videos and 117,000 views for positive videos.

Image Credits: Pew Research

Meanwhile, videos about the Trump administration made up the largest share of views in December 2019, as roughly a third (36%) were about the impeachment and 31% were about other domestic issues, like gun control, abortion or immigration. Another 9% were about international affairs. Videos about the Trump administration saw around 250,000 average views compared with videos on other topics, which averaged 122,000 views. Trump was the most common video focus in about a quarter of the videos studied, or 24%.

Videos about the 2020 elections, which at the time were centered around the Democratic primary, were the topic of just 12% of news videos, by comparison.

Image Credits: Pew Research

The study also examined how YouTube news channels presented themselves. It found that the vast majority don’t clearly state a political ideology even when the content of their videos makes it clear they have an ideological slant.

Only around 12% of YouTube news channels presented their political ideology in their description. Of those, 8% were right-leaning and 4% were left-leaning. Independent news channels were more likely to present themselves using partisan terms and more likely to say they leaned right.

The demographics of the typical YouTube news consumer was a part of the study, too. Pew Research found the news video viewers were more likely to be young and male, and less likely to be White, compared with U.S. adults overall. About a third (34%) are under the age of 30, compared with 21% of all U.S. adults; 71% are under 50, compared with 55% of U.S. adults overall.

And 58% of YouTube news consumers are more likely to be male, compared with 48% of U.S. adults overall. Half (50%) are White, 14% are Black and 25% are Hispanic. In the U.S., 63% of adults are White, 12% are Black and 16% are Hispanic.

The full study is available via the Pew Research Center website.

Facebook now lets you customize your Watch video feed with #Topics

Facebook’s video destination, Facebook Watch, is introducing a new feature called “Your Topics” that will allow you to tailor its feed to include more of the content you want to see. Currently, Facebook leverages its existing understanding of each viewer’s interests to personalize the Watch Feed. Topics, however, will allow users to more explicitly tell Facebook what sort of things they like by exploring and subscribing to various content categories.

The feature has been quietly rolling out to Facebook users in recent days, and now some portion of the user base already has the feature in their own Facebook app.

Among the first to notice the new addition was Twitter user @whimchic, who regularly spots updates and changes to mobile applications before they’re made public.

They were alerted to the feature through a pop-up within Watch on the Facebook mobile app, we’re told. Here, a message explained that Facebook will now focus on showing more of the videos related to the #Topics you follow.

“Due to the many different ways your Watch feed is determined and how videos get categorized, you may see videos in your Watch feed that you aren’t interested in,” the message also warned. “Some videos related to the #Topics or Pages you follow may not appear in your Watch feed,” it noted.

Image Credits: Facebook app, screenshot via @whimchic

If you have the feature, you can access it for yourself by clicking on the Profile icon in the Facebook Watch tab on mobile, then clicking on the link to “Your Topics” to browse the available categories.

The subcategories which you can actually follow or unfollow are grouped underneath broader category pages, like Animals, Art & Design, Books, Business, Education, Fashion & Style, Food, Games, History & Philosophy, Home & Garden, Music, Performing Arts, Science & Tech, Sports, Travel & Leisure, TV & Movies, and Transportation.

Image Credits: Facebook app, screenshot via TechCrunch

However, you can’t follow these high-level categories themselves — you have to click inside them to follow the individual topics. These can be very specific. For example, within Animals, you could follow #EndangeredSpecies or #GoldenRetrievers. Within Travel & Leisure, you could follow #TravelOceania or #WinterActivities. And so on.

But the subcategory listings are not comprehensive. Upon testing the feature within the Facebook app on my iPhone, a search for many other possible topics yielded no results. (What, no #Corgi videos?!) This, of course, could change in time as the feature is expanded.

Image Credits: Facebook app, screenshot via TechCrunch

Once you follow a topic, a message will confirm your choice and then the topic will appear under “Topics You Follow” in the Your Topics section of Facebook Watch.

From here, you can choose to unfollow the topic later on if you decide you want to see less of it in your feed. And if you want to watch only videos from a given topic, you can tap the topic to delve into a customized feed.

 

The feature is now one of several ways users can personalize and filter their broader Facebook Watch feed.

You can also filter the feed by Live, Music, Following, Shows, Gaming and more, by tapping on the buttons at the top of the screen or from the What’s on Watch category picker that shows up as you scroll further down the Watch Feed.

Facebook also adds groupings like its editorially curated “Get Caught Up” section with videos from paid partners, or those groupings that are more algorithmically sorted, like the one with videos that got the most “HaHa’s” or “Loves” this week, or those that are popular with friends.

Image Credits: Facebook app, screenshot via TechCrunch

The new feature could make Facebook Watch more competitive with YouTube, where there’s historically been a heavier focus on connecting users with individual channels to subscribe to. But YouTube has also embraced Topics in its own way, with broad categories like “Gaming” and “Fashion & Beauty” that are now a part of its main navigation. And it puts personalized topics at the top of the home page directing signed-in users to categories of videos they tend to watch.

Twitter, of course, has its own Topics feature, too, which showcases top tweets that match a particular interest. These may or may contain videos, however.

Reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed the addition of Topics, saying “we’re working on more ways to connect people with videos that match their interests.” No further details were provided.

 

Facebook will launch officially licensed music videos in the US starting this weekend

Facebook today confirmed it will begin rolling out official music videos across its platform in the U.S., as TechCrunch first reported, as well as introduce a new Music destination within Facebook Watch. The changes, which will go into effect starting this weekend, will allow Facebook users to discover, watch and share music videos from a wide range of artists, including, for example, Anitta, Blake Shelton, Bob Marley, Diplo, Elton John, Jonas Brothers, Josh Groban, Keith Urban, Maren Morris, Marvin Gaye, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, and others.

Though Facebook had already been working with partners in India and Thailand on a similar music experience before today, the U.S. launch is enabled by Facebook’s expanded partnerships with top labels, including Sony Music, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Merlin, BMG, Kobalt and other independents.

Facebook tells TechCrunch its deals include the full catalog across all major partners and a host of independents.

TechCrunch earlier this month reported Facebook’s plans for music videos would arrive August 1st. We also noted that supported artists were being informed they would soon need to toggle on a new permission that would allow Facebook to automatically add their music videos to their Page, where they could be discovered by fans on the Page’s Videos tab. Once enabled, the artists will be able to edit or remove their video posts at any time.

However, if this setting was not enabled, Facebook will instead automatically generate a separate official music Page on the artist’s behalf, titled “[Artist Name] Official Music,” to enable discovery. That Page would be created and controlled by Facebook and accessible through Facebook Watch, though artists can later choose to opt-in to include their official videos on their own Page.

Image Credits: screenshot via TechCrunch

Image Credits: TechCrunch

With the launch, Facebook users will be able to follow their favorite artists, then receive the latest music video releases from those artists in their News Feed, as they go live. The “follow” option will be available not only on the artist’s Facebook Page, as before, but also directly from the music videos themselves.

By clicking through on the shared posts, fans will be directed to the artist’s Facebook Page, where they can browse the Videos tab to watch more officially licensed music.

The music video posts, like any on Facebook, can be shared, reacted to and commented on. They can also be shared across News Feed, where friends can discover the posts, as well as shared to Groups and in Messenger.

Image Credits: Facebook

The dedicated Music section on Facebook Watch, meanwhile, will allow users to explore music by genre, artist name or mood, or across themed playlists like “Hip Hop MVPs,” “Trailblazers of Pop,” “Epic Dance Videos” or more timely playlists like “Popular This Week” and “New This Week.”

The videos will also be monetized by advertising, like elsewhere on Facebook Watch. However, unlike some video ads, they won’t interrupt the music in the middle of playing. Instead, Facebook tells TechCrunch the ads will either appear pre-roll, during the video as an image ad below the video player or post-roll. These plans may change in the weeks ahead as it iterates on the experience, Facebook notes.

Image Credits: Facebook

The company will apply its personalization technology to the music video experience, too, we understand. As users watch, engage and share, the Music destination in Facebook Watch will become more attuned to your personal likes and interests.

More social experiences are planned for the future, including user-generated playlists.

“Official music videos on Facebook are about more than just watching a video. They’re about social experiences, from discovering new artists with friends to connecting more deeply with artists and people you love,” said Facebook VP of Entertainment, Vijaye Raji. “There’s something in our music video catalog for everyone, and we’re excited for people to discover and rediscover their favorites,” he added.

Facebook says this weekend’s launch of the new Music experience is just the start, and it plans to roll out more music across the platform over time.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook’s launch of music videos is seen as a significant challenge to YouTube, which accounted for 46% of the world’s music streaming outside of China as of 2017, according to a report from IFPI. YouTube, around that time, also claimed more than 1 billion music fans came to its site to connect with music from over 2 billion artists.

More recently, YouTube reported it had paid out more than $3 billion to the music industry in 2019. The music labels, however, have shown interest in an alternative to YouTube, which they feel doesn’t pay enough. The financial terms of Facebook’s deal with the labels were not disclosed.

Though Facebook had deals with music labels before now, those were more limited. Artists from major labels, for example, weren’t able to share full music videos due to licensing rights — they could only post a short preview. The change to include full videos could significantly impact how much time users spend on Facebook in the months ahead.

The launch follows a month-long Facebook advertiser boycott over issues around hate speech on the platform, which some brands have chosen to continue with, reports say. But the music video launch was not timed to encourage an advertiser return. According to documents previously reviewed by TechCrunch, the date of August 1, 2020 had been the planned launch date for some time.

The videos are now one of several ways artists can connect with fans on Facebook, as the company had already rolled out tools that allowed artists to promote new releases with custom AR effects and Music Stickers, host live-streamed Q&As on Facebook Live and raise money for important causes through the donate button in Live and Stories.

“Artist/Fan connection on Facebook is deeper and more authentic because of tools like Stories, Live and custom AR effects. Official music videos are re-born in that setting — they become part of the way people express identity and mood and bring a new dimension to the artist storytelling that happens on our apps every day,” said Tamara Hrivnak, VP of Music Business Development and Partnerships at Facebook.

Facebook now allows users in the U.S. & Canada to export photos and videos to Google Photos

Facebook is today rolling out a tool that will allow users in the U.S. and Canada to export their Facebook photos and videos to Google Photos. This data portability tool was first introduced in Ireland in December, and has since been made available to other international markets.

To use the feature, Facebook users will need to click on “Settings,” followed by”Your Facebook Information,” then “Transfer a Copy of Your Photos and Videos.” Facebook will ask you to verify your password to confirm your identity in order to proceed. On the next screen, you’ll be able to choose “Google Photos” as the destination from the “Choose Destination” drop-down box that appears. You’ll also need your Google account information to authenticate with its service before the transfer begins.

The tool’s release comes about by way of Facebook’s participation in the Data Transfer Project, a collaborative effort with other tech giants including Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter, which focuses on a building out common ways for people to transfer their data between online services.

Of course, it also serves as a way for the major tech companies to fend off potential regulation as they’ll be able to point to tools like this as a way to prove they’re not holding their users hostage — if people are unhappy, they can just take their data and leave!

Facebook’s Director of Privacy and Public Policy Steve Satterfield, in an interview with Reuters on Thursday, essentially confirmed the tool is less about Facebook being in service to its users, and more about catering to policymakers’ and regulators’ demands.

“…It really is an important part of the response to the kinds of concerns that drive antitrust regulation or competition regulation,” Satterfield told the news outlet.

The launch also arrives conveniently ahead of a Federal Trade Commission hearing on September 22 that will be focused on data portability. Facebook said it would participate in that hearing, if approached, the report noted.

In Facebook’s original announcement about the tool’s launch last year, it said it would expand the service to include more than just Google Photos in the “near future.”

The transfer tool is not the only way to get your data out of Facebook. The company has offered Download Your Information since 2010. But once you have your data, there isn’t much else you can do with it — Facebook hasn’t had any large-scale rivals since older social networks like MySpace, FriendFeed (RIP!), and Friendster died and Google+ failed.

In addition to the U.S. and Canada, the photo transfer tool has been launched in several other markets, including Europe and Latin America.

 

YouTube asks the FTC to clarify how video creators should comply with COPPA ruling

YouTube is asking the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for further clarification and better guidance to help video creators understand how to comply with the FTC’s guidelines set forth as part of YouTube’s settlement with the regulator over its violations of children’s privacy laws. The FTC in September imposed a historic fine of $170 million for YouTube’s violations of COPPA (the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). It additionally required YouTube creators to now properly identify any child-directed content on the platform.

To comply with the ruling, YouTube created a system where creators could either label their entire channel as child-directed, or they could identify only certain videos as being directed at children, as needed. Videos that are considered child-directed content would then be prohibited from collecting personal data from viewers. This limited creators’ ability to leverage Google’s highly profitable behavioral advertising technology on videos kids were likely to watch.

As a result, YouTube creators have been in an uproar since the ruling, arguing that it’s too difficult to tell the difference between what’s child-directed content and what’s not. Several popular categories of YouTube videos — like gaming, toy reviews and family vlogging, for instance — fall under gray areas, where they’re watched by children and adults alike. But because the FTC’s ruling left creators held liable for any future violations, YouTube could only advise creators to consult a lawyer to help them work through the ruling’s impact on their own channels.

Today, YouTube says it’s asking the FTC to provide more clarity.

“Currently, the FTC’s guidance requires platforms must treat anyone watching primarily child-directed content as children under 13. This does not match what we see on YouTube, where adults watch favorite cartoons from their childhood or teachers look for content to share with their students,” noted YouTube in an announcement. “Creators of such videos have also conveyed the value of product features that wouldn’t be supported on their content. For example, creators have expressed the value of using comments to get helpful feedback from older viewers. This is why we support allowing platforms to treat adults as adults if there are measures in place to help confirm that the user is an adult viewing kids’ content,” the company said.

Specifically, YouTube wants the FTC to clarify what’s to be done when adults are watching kids’ content. It also wants to know what’s to be done about content that doesn’t intentionally target kids — like videos in the gaming, DIY and art space, for example — if those videos end up attracting a young audience. Are these also to be labeled “made for kids,” even though that’s not their intention?, YouTube asks.

The FTC had shared some guidance in November, which YouTube passed along to creators. But YouTube says it’s not enough as it doesn’t help creators to understand what’s to be done about this “mixed audience” content.

YouTube says it supports platforms treating adults who view primarily child-directed video content as adults, as long as there are measures in place to help confirm the user is an adult. It didn’t suggest what those measures would be, though possibly this could involve users logged in to an adult-owned Google account or perhaps an age-gate measure of some sort.

YouTube submitted its statements as a part of the FTC’s comment period on the agency’s review of the COPPA Rule, which has been extended until December 11, 2019. The FTC is giving commenters additional time to submit comments and an alternative mechanism to file them as the federal government’s Regulations.gov portal is temporarily inaccessible. Instead, commenters can submit their thoughts via email to the address [email protected], with the subject line “COPPA comment.” These must be submitted before 11:59 PM ET on December 11, the FTC says.

YouTube’s announcement, however, pointed commenters to the FTC’s website, which isn’t working right now.

“We strongly support COPPA’s goal of providing robust protections for kids and their privacy. We also believe COPPA would benefit from updates and clarifications that better reflect how kids and families use technology today, while still allowing access to a wide range of content that helps them learn, grow and explore. We continue to engage on this issue with the FTC and other lawmakers (we previously participated in the FTC’s public workshop) and are committed to continue [sic] doing so,” said YouTube.

Get ready to see more looping videos on Spotify, as Canvas launches into beta

Spotify is opening up its Canvas feature to more artists, the company announced this morning, which means you’ll see a lot more of those looping videos on the app starting soon. The feature has been in limited testing before today with select artists. When available, you don’t just see the album artwork behind the player controls — you see a moving, visual experience that plays in a short loop.

So far, Canvas has had mixed reviewers from Spotify users. Some find the looping imagery distracting while others simply prefer seeing the album art. Some people seem to like the feature. But others only like it with certain content and artists.

The challenge is in designing a video loop that works well. That means it shouldn’t be an attempt to try to lip sync to a part of a song. It shouldn’t include intense flashing graphics or text, nor should it distract people from being able to see the player controls and track information.

Screen Shot 2019 10 10 at 12.07.54 PM

Spotify also suggests trying to tell a full story in the loop rather than just drastically trimming a music video down to the time allotted (3- or 8-second clips). Other recommended Canvas experiences are those that help develop the artists’ persona across their profile and tracks, or those that are updated frequently. Billie Eilish, for example, uses the feature to share animated versions of fan art.

Since launching, Canvas has been seen by millions of users, Spotify says. But the company seems to acknowledge the impact varies, based on how the Canvas is designed. When it works, it can “significantly increase” track streams, shares, and artists page visits. But Spotify didn’t say what happens when the feature fails to engage fans.

However, based on social media discussions about the feature and how-to guides detailing how to turn the thing off, it would seem that some users choose to opt out of the experience entirely.

Today, Spotify says Canvas will no longer be limited to select artists, as it’s opening more broadly to artists in an expanded beta. With the beta, Spotify hopes artists will treat Canvas as a critical part of their release strategy, and will continue to use it across their catalog.

“It’s a way to get noticed and build a vision — and an excellent way to share more of who you are with your listeners, hopefully turning them into fans,” the company writes in an announcement. “The goal is for you to have richer ways to express yourself and to allow listeners to engage with you and your music even more deeply. We’re continuing to work on additional features, as well as more tools and metrics to help you better understand how your art is reaching your audience,” the company says.

It’s hard not to comment on the timing of this launch. At the end of September, Google announced that YouTube Music would not be preinstalled on new Android devices, taking the place of Google Play Music. With YouTube Music, streamers gain access to a visually immersive experience where they can watch the music videos, not just listen to the audio, if they prefer.

Spotify, however, has traditionally been a place to listen — not to watch. That’s not to say there aren’t music videos on Spotify, they’re just not well highlighted by the app nor a core part of the Spotify experience.

The company says it’s now sending artists their invites to join the beta. Those who haven’t received the invite can instead make a request to be added here.

 

Facetune maker Lightricks expands with a trio of apps for small businesses

Fresh of its recent raise of $135 million, Lightricks, the maker of popular selfie editor Facetune and several other top consumer-focused photo editing applications, is branching out. The company this morning announced the launch of a suite of new mobile apps aimed at small businesses that want professional content creation tools to help them with their social media marketing campaigns.

Together, the new suite of apps is known as “BoostApps,” and includes StoryBoost for creating unique stories for Instagram; VideoBoost for making videos using your own clips, stock footage or both; and PosterBoost, which lets you turn photos into engaging posts for your business.

Screens StoryBoost

The move to serve the needs of small businesses was directed by how Lightricks saw its users taking advantage of its existing products, like Enlight Videoleap and Enlight Photofox, the company says.

When Lightricks surveyed its Videoleap subscriber base, for example, it found that roughly 30% were already using the app for business purposes.

“We understood then, that our next product had to be a tool specifically for businesses. Businesses are results-driven, and that’s the basis of the BoostApps — empowering and enabling businesses to create social media marketing materials that are not only beautiful, but also effective,” says Zeev Farbman, Lightricks Co-Founder and CEO.

Like its consumer line of apps, the BoostApps are designed to be easy to use — even if you’re not a photo-editing professional or have a social media marketing background.

Instead, they’re for people who consider themselves a small business owner, Farbman says. That could be a yoga teacher, startup entrepreneur, influencer, or anyone else.

Screens PosterBoost

“The common denominator is that they started their business because they were passionate about something, and then needed to become full-fledged marketers in addition to building their businesses,” he explains. “They know that social media can get them to their marketing goals, but they don’t know how to get results without investing too much time and money.”

Like the rest of the Lightricks line, the apps are subscription-based. StoryBoost and PosterBoost are $7.99 per month, and VideoBoost is $9.99 per month. There are also annual discounts ($44.99 or $59.99, respectively) and the option for a lifetime purchase ($99.99 or $119.99). And you can subscribe to all three in a bundle for $95.99 per year. 

Also like other Lightricks apps, the new BoostApps rely heavily on the company’s technology investments and A.I. Lightricks has a dedicated team whose job it is to figure out ways to integrate their most advanced and innovative research into their apps.

For example, it created a camera motion effect that can be used on every image, using A.I. technology to build a depth map that turns the images into engaging posters, says Farbman. They also created a video engine capable of producing a range of composition effects. And the results render in real-time on the device, to make the editing process feel fast.

Screens VideoBoost

While there are plenty of other companies offering creative tools for marketers, Lightricks brings its own knowledge of digital marketing to the table — something it credits with its own success, in fact.

The launch of the SMB-focused suite doesn’t mean Lightricks is pivoting to pro tools, however, Farbman clarified. It’s more of an expansion.

Case in point: the company today is also partnering with subscription beauty service BoxyCharm on a collaboration with Facetune2, which will allow users to virtually “try on” products in the October box using AR filters.

That said, Lightricks does plan to further expand BoostApps further down the road with more tools that will integrate scheduling, smart algorithms, and post optimization features.

The Jerusalem-headquartered company, which recently achieved unicorn status, is growing quickly. It now has over 300 employees, and expects to reach at least 500 by 2020. And despite the sizable funding round, Lightricks says it tries to stay profitable or as close to profitable as possible, even when launching new products.

Combined, its suite of apps has seen nearly 200 million downloads and has 3 million paying subscribers.

To date, Lightricks has raised $205 million.

BoostApps will be available today on iOS devices. (iOS 11 or higher).

 

YouTube overhauls its problematic verification program

YouTube’s verification program is getting a massive overhaul, the company announced today, which will likely result in a number of less prominent creators losing their verification status. Previously, YouTube allowed any channel that reached 100,000 subscribers to request verification. That limit is being removed, with a change to the verification program that rolls out in October. Going forward, YouTube will focus its efforts on verifying channels that have more of a need to prove their authenticity — like those belonging to a brand, public figure, artist or another creator who might be subject to impersonation, for example.

YouTube says the earlier verification system was established when the site was smaller, but its ecosystem has since grown and “become more complex.”

Instead of looking at a number of subscribers — a metric than can be gamed by bots — the new system will have more murky requirements. YouTube says it’s about “prominence,” which it defines in a number of ways.

For starters, YouTube will determine if the channel represents a “well-known or highly searched for creator, artist, public figure or company.” It will also consider if the channel is widely recognized outside of YouTube and has a strong online presence, or if it’s a channel that has a very similar name to many other channels.

We understand YouTube will use a combination of human curation and algorithmic signals to make these determinations. When asked, the company declined to discuss the specifics, however.

Creators V3

There were several reasons YouTube wanted to change its system, beyond raising the threshold for verification.

The company had run into a similar problem that Twitter once faced — people mistook the verification badge as an endorsement. On Twitter, that issue reached a tipping point when it was discovered that Twitter had verified the Charlottesville rally organizer. Twitter stopped verifying accounts shortly afterward. Its system today is still being fixed, but the project has been put on the back burner.

Similarly, YouTube’s research found that over 30% of users misunderstood the verification badge’s meaning, believing the checkmark indicted “endorsement of content,” not “identity.”

This is problematic for YouTube for a number of reasons, but mainly because the company wants to distance itself from the content on its platform — content that is often racist, vile, false, dangerous, conspiracy-filled and extremist. YouTube wants to be an open site, with all the troubles that entails, but doesn’t want to be held accountable for the terrible things posted there — like the 14-year-old girl who grew to online fame by posting racist, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ videos, or the high-profile star who made repeated racist comments, then gets honored by YouTube with special creator rewards. 

There were other issues with the prior system, as well.

Some creators would fake their verification status, for instance. Before the changes, a verified channel would display a checkmark next to its channel name. This could be easily forged by simply adding a checkmark to the end of a channel name.

Plus, the checkmark itself only really worked when people viewed the channel’s main watch page on desktop or mobile. It didn’t translate as well to interactions in live chats, on community posts or in stories.

Music V3

By revamping the verification system, YouTube is clarifying that the verification isn’t an endorsement — it’s a neutral statement of fact. It’s also less difficult to forge, and works everywhere the creator interacts with fans.

The updated verification system drops the checkmark in favor of a gray swipe across the channel name (see above).

This applies to both channels and artists. With regards to the latter, it will replace the music note.

The system will roll out in late October, YouTube said, and the new criteria will apply for all channels.

Those who meet the new requirements won’t need to apply — they’ll automatically receive the new verified treatment. Others who didn’t qualify for re-verification will be notified today and will have the option to appeal the decision before the changes take place.

Information on the appeals process will be available in YouTube’s Help Center.

Update, 9/19/19, 1:26 PM ET: Here’s the letter YouTube creators are receiving. Note it refers to a timeframe of “early” instead of “late” October for the changes.

youtube letter

Here’s the email if you stay verified (thanks @thiojoe) –

YouTube Music cracks down on rampant chart manipulation with new pay-for-play ban

YouTube will no longer allow paid views and advertising to influence its YouTube Music Charts, the company announced this morning. Instead, it will calculate its rankings based only on view counts coming from organic plays. In addition, it’s changing its methodology for reporting on 24-hour record debuts to also only count views from organic sources, including direct links to the video, search results, Watch Next and Trending — but not video advertising.

The changes come about after multiple reports examined how music labels were spending aggressively on video advertising in order to juice the views of their artists’ newly debuted songs.

One report by Rolling Stone detailed how the practice worked, with regard to YouTube’s TrueView ads. This form of advertising lets the advertiser, like the artist or the label, play a shortened version of a music video as an advertisement in front of other videos. Under some conditions — like if a YouTube user interacts with the video or watches it for a certain amount of time — it would count toward the video’s overall view count.

Bloomberg had also reported on the curious case of Indian rapper Badshah, whose video “Paagal” broke records with 75 million views in a single day — topping a prior record set by Korean boy band BTS. Initially, there were rumors that the label, Sony Music, had used server farms and bots to accomplish this. It later turned out to be paid advertising, which Badshah confessed to on Instagram.

But this was not an uncommon practice — Taylor Swift and Blackpink and many others had done the same, the report said. Badshah had just taken it much further.

The report also said YouTube was considering revising its system, as a result.

Today, YouTube is officially announcing those changes.

“YouTube Music Charts have become an indispensable source for the industry and the most accurate place for measuring the popularity of music listening behavior happening on the world’s largest music platform,” the company explained in a blog post. “In an effort to provide more transparency to the industry and align with the policies of official charting companies such as Billboard and Nielsen, we are no longer counting paid advertising views on YouTube in the YouTube Music Charts calculation. Artists will now be ranked based on view counts from organic plays,” the post read.

The changes impact the 24-hour debuts, plus all of YouTube Music’s other charts, including those focused on what’s rising, trending and popular, both locally and globally.

Though advertising and non-organic views will no longer contribute to the view count for the purpose of YouTube’s Music Chart rankings, the company says these changes will not impact YouTube’s existing 24-hour record debut holders. That means Badshah and others can continue to tout their “records,” tainted as those claims may now be.

The changes won’t likely mean the end of this sort of music video advertising, however. Ads still remain a great way for users to be exposed to new music which can, in turn, boost organic views as links get clicked, shared, and embedded elsewhere around the web, for example. But it could have a dampening impact on the pay-for-play business and the size of the ad spend.

“Staying true to YouTube’s overall mission of giving everyone a voice and showing them the world, we want to celebrate all artist achievements on YouTube as determined by their global fans. It’s the artists and fans that have made YouTube the best and most accurate measure of the world’s listening tastes, and we intend on keeping it that way,” said YouTube.

YouTube to spend $100M on original children’s content

Creators of child-directed content will be financially impacted by the changes required by the FTC settlement, YouTube admitted today. The settlement will end the use of children’s personal data for ad-targeting purposes, the FTC said. To address creators’ concerns over their businesses, YouTube also announced a $100 million fund to invest in original children’s content.

The fund, distributed over three years, will be dedicated to the creation of “thoughtful” original content for YouTube and YouTube Kids globally, the company says.

“We know these changes will have a significant business impact on family and kids creators who have been building both wonderful content and thriving businesses, so we’ve worked to give impacted creators four months to adjust before changes take effect on YouTube,” wrote YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in a blog post. “We recognize this won’t be easy for some creators and are committed to working with them through this transition and providing resources to help them better understand these changes.”

YouTube plans to share more information about the fund and its plans in the weeks ahead.

In addition, YouTube said today it’s “rethinking” its overall approach to the YouTube kids and family experience.

This could go toward fixing some of the other problems raised by the consumer advocacy groups who prompted the FTC investigation. The groups weren’t entirely pleased by the settlement, as they believed it was only scratching the surface of YouTube’s issue.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the FTC isn’t requiring more substantive changes or doing more to hold Google accountable for harming children through years of illegal data collection,” said Josh Golin, the executive director for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a group that spearheaded the push for an investigation. “A plethora of parental concerns about YouTube – from inappropriate content and recommendations to excessive screen time – can all be traced to Google’s business model of using data to maximize watch time and ad revenue,” he added.

Google already began to crack down on some of these concerns, independent of an FTC requirement, however.

To tackle the scourge of inappropriate content targeting minors, YouTube in August expanded its child safety policies to remove — instead of only restrict, as it did before — any “misleading family content, including videos that target younger minors and their families, those that contain sexual themes, violence, obscene, or other mature themes not suitable for younger audiences.”

Separately, YouTube aims to address the issues raised around promotional content in videos.

For example, a video with kids playing with toys could be an innocent home movie or it could involve a business agreement between the video creator and a brand to showcase the products in exchange for free merchandise or direct payment.

The latter should be labeled as advertising, as required by YouTube, but that’s often not the case. And even when ads are disclosed, it’s impossible for young children to know the difference between when they’re being entertained and when they’re being marketed to.

There are also increasing concerns over the lack of child labor laws when it comes to children performing in YouTube videos, which has prompted some parents to exploit their kids for views or even commit child abuse.

YouTube’s “rethinking” of its kids’ experience should also include whether or not it should continue to incentivize the creation of these “kid influencer” and YouTube family videos, where little girls’ and boys’ childhoods have become the source of parents’ incomes.

YouTube’s re-evaluation of the kids’ experience comes at a time when the FTC is also thinking of how to better police general audience platforms on the web, where some content is viewed by kids. The regulator is hosting an October workshop to discuss this issue, where it hopes to come up with ways to encourage others to develop kid-safe zones, too.