YouTube CEO’s latest update details its growth, glosses over content problems

YouTube highlighted its growth and promised better communication with creators about its tests and experiments, the company announced today in its latest of an ongoing series of updates from CEO Susan Wojcicki focused on YouTube’s top five priorities in 2018. The majority of her missive today – which was also released in the form of a YouTube video – were wrap-ups of other announcements and launches the company had recently made, like the new features released at this year’s VidCon including Channel Memberships, merchandise, and Famebit.

However, the company did offer a few updates related to those launches, including news of expanded merch partnerships. But YouTube didn’t detail the crucial steps it should be taking to address the content issues that continue to plague its site.

YouTube said one way it’s improving communication is via Creator Insider, an unofficial channel started by YouTube employees, which offers weekly updates, responds to concerns, and gives a more behind-the-scenes look into product launches.

In terms of its product updates, YouTube said that Channel Memberships, which are currently open to those with more than 100,000 subscribers, will roll out to more creators in the “coming months.” Meanwhile, merch, which is now available to U.S.-based channels with over 10,000 subscribers, will add new merchandising partners and expand to more creators “soon.”

At present, YouTube is partnered with custom merchandise platform Teespring, which keeps a cut of the merchandise sales while YouTube earns a small commission. The company didn’t say which other merchandise providers would be joining the program.

YouTube’s Famebit, which connects creators and brands for paid content creation, is also growing. YouTube says that more than half of channels working with Famebit doubled their YouTube revenue in the first three months of the year. And it will soon launch a new feature that will allow YouTube viewers to shop for products, apps, and tickets right form the creator’s watch page. (This was announced at VidCon, too.)

Content problems remain

There was little attention given to brand safety in today’s update, however, beyond a promise that this continues to be one of YouTube’s “biggest priorities” and that it’s seeing “positive” results.

In reality, the company still struggles with content moderation. It even fails to follow-up when there’s a high-profile case, it seems. The most recent example of this is YouTube’s takedown of the “FamilyOFive” channel this week.

The channel’s creators, Michael and Heather Martin, are serving probation in Maryland after being convicted of emotionally and physically abusing their children in “prank” videos for their prior DaddyOFive channel. They lost custody of their two younger children as a result.

Unbelievably, the family returned to YouTube as FamilyOFive and FamilyOFive Gaming, and continued to produce videos reaching a combined 400,000+ subscribers. Seemingly without remorse for their past actions, their new channel featured more abuse – one of their children took a shot to their groin in one video, and another was harassed to the point of a meltdown in another.

The family has claimed it’s all “entertainment,” but the justice system obviously disagreed. It’s outrageous that convicted child abusers would be allowed to continue to upload videos of their children to YouTube. The site needs to have much stricter policies not only around bans, but about the use of children in videos entirely. Kids do not have the autonomy to make decisions about whether or not they want to be filmed, and aren’t able to comprehend the long-term impacts of being public on the internet.

While FamilyOFive is an extreme example, YouTube is still filled to the brim with parents exploiting their kids for cash – the stage moms and dads of a new era, raking in the free toys, products, and cash from brands who see YouTube as the new TV, and its creators and their children as the new, less regulated actors.

Unfortunately for children, existing child actor laws that protect children from exploitation and set aside some portion of their earnings outside of parents’ reach haven’t always applied to YouTube stars. YouTube now complies with local child labor laws, it says, but it’s not involved in enforcement. And even with a policy in place, it’s clearly not enough to dissuade parents from filming their kids for cash.

Growth

YouTube’s post today also highlighted other growth metrics. It noted it now has 1.9 billion logged-in monthly users, who watch over 180 million hours of YouTube on TV screens every day. Overall interactions, such as likes, comments and chats, grew by more than 60% year over year, and livestreams increased by 10X over the last three years. Over 60 million users click or engage with Community Tab posts.

YouTube says it answered 600% more tweets through its official Twitter handles (@TeamYouTube, @YTCreators and @YouTube) in 2018 than in 2017 and grew its reach by 30% in the past few months.

And the company noted its plan to expand Stories to those with more than 10,000 subscribers, plus the launches of its new Copyright Match tool, screen time limitation features, and YouTube Studio’s new dashboard which will roll out in 76 languages in the next two weeks.

 

Reminder: Other people’s lives are not fodder for your feeds

#PlaneBae

You should cringe when you read that hashtag. Because it’s a reminder that people are being socially engineered by technology platforms to objectify and spy on each other for voyeuristic pleasure and profit.

The short version of the story attached to the cringeworthy hashtag is this: Earlier this month an individual, called Rosey Blair, spent all the hours of a plane flight using her smartphone and social media feeds to invade the privacy of her seat neighbors — publicly gossiping about the lives of two strangers.

Her speculation was set against a backdrop of rearview creepshots, with a few barely there scribbles added to blot out actual facial features. Even as an entire privacy invading narrative was being spun unknowingly around them.

#PlanePrivacyInvasion would be a more fitting hashtag. Or #MoralVacuumAt35000ft

And yet our youthful surveillance society started with a far loftier idea associated with it: Citizen journalism.

Once we’re all armed with powerful smartphones and ubiquitously fast Internet there will be no limits to the genuinely important reportage that will flow, we were told.

There will be no way for the powerful to withhold the truth from the people.

At least that was the nirvana we were sold.

What did we get? Something that looks much closer to mass manipulation. A tsunami of ad stalking, intentionally fake news and social media-enabled demagogues expertly appropriating these very same tools by gamifying mind-less, ethically nil algorithms.

Meanwhile, masses of ordinary people + ubiquitous smartphones + omnipresent social media feeds seems, for the most part, to be resulting in a kind of mainstream attention deficit disorder.

Yes, there is citizen journalism — such as people recording and broadcasting everyday experiences of aggression, racism and sexism, for example. Experiences that might otherwise go unreported, and which are definitely underreported.

That is certainly important.

But there are also these telling moments of #hashtaggable ethical blackout. As a result of what? Let’s call it the lure of ‘citizen clickbait’ — as people use their devices and feeds to mimic the worst kind of tabloid celebrity gossip ‘journalism’ by turning their attention and high tech tools on strangers, with (apparently) no major motivation beyond the simple fact that they can. Because technology is enabling them.

Social norms and common courtesy should kick in and prevent this. But social media is pushing in an unequal and opposite direction, encouraging users to turn anything — even strangers’ lives — into raw material to be repackaged as ‘content’ and flung out for voyeuristic entertainment.

It’s life reflecting commerce. But a particularly insidious form of commerce that does not accept editorial let alone ethical responsibility, has few (if any) moral standards, and relies, for continued function, upon stripping away society’s collective sense of privacy in order that these self-styled ‘sharing’ (‘taking’ is closer to the mark) platforms can swell in size and profit.

But it’s even worse than that. Social media as a data-mining, ad-targeting enterprise relies upon eroding our belief in privacy. So these platforms worry away at that by trying to disrupt our understanding of what privacy means. Because if you were to consider what another person thinks or feels — even for a millisecond — you might not post whatever piece of ‘content’ you had in mind.

For the platforms it’s far better if you just forget to think.

Facebook’s business is all about applying engineering ingenuity to eradicate the thoughtful friction of personal and societal conscience.

That’s why, for instance, it uses facial recognition technology to automate content identification — meaning there’s almost no opportunity for individual conscience to kick in and pipe up to quietly suggest that publicly tagging others in a piece of content isn’t actually the right thing to do.

Because it’s polite to ask permission first.

But Facebook’s antisocial automation pushes people away from thinking to ask for permission. There’s no button provided for that. The platform encourages us to forget all about the existence of common courtesies.

So we should not be at all surprised that such fundamental abuses of corporate power are themselves trickling down to infect the people who use and are exposed to these platforms’ skewed norms.

Viral episodes like #PlaneBae demonstrate that the same sense of entitlement to private information is being actively passed onto the users these platforms prey on and feed off — and is then getting beamed out, like radiation, to harm the people around them.

The damage is collective when societal norms are undermined.

#PlaneBae

Social media’s ubiquity means almost everyone works in marketing these days. Most people are marketing their own lives — posting photos of their pets, their kids, the latte they had this morning, the hipster gym where they work out — having been nudged to perform this unpaid labor by the platforms that profit from it.

The irony is that most of this work is being done for free. Only the platforms are being paid. Though there are some people making a very modern living; the new breed of ‘life sharers’ who willingly polish, package and post their professional existence as a brand of aspiration lifestyle marketing.

Social media’s gift to the world is that anyone can be a self-styled model now, and every passing moment a fashion shoot for hire — thanks to the largess of highly accessible social media platforms providing almost anyone who wants it with their own self-promoting shopwindow in the world. Plus all the promotional tools they could ever need.

Just step up to the glass and shoot.

And then your vacation beauty spot becomes just another backdrop for the next aspirational selfie. Although those aquamarine waters can’t be allowed to dampen or disrupt photo-coifed tresses, nor sand get in the camera kit. In any case, the makeup took hours to apply and there’s the next selfie to take…

What does the unchronicled life of these professional platform performers look like? A mess of preparation for projecting perfection, presumably, with life’s quotidian business stuffed higgledy piggledy into the margins — where they actually sweat and work to deliver the lie of a lifestyle dream.

Because these are also fakes — beautiful fakes, but fakes nonetheless.

We live in an age of entitled pretence. And while it may be totally fine for an individual to construct a fictional narrative that dresses up the substance of their existence, it’s certainly not okay to pull anyone else into your pantomime. Not without asking permission first.

But the problem is that social media is now so powerfully omnipresent its center of gravity is actively trying to pull everyone in — and its antisocial impacts frequently spill out and over the rest of us. And they rarely if ever ask for consent.

What about the people who don’t want their lives to be appropriated as digital windowdressing? Who weren’t asking for their identity to be held up for public consumption? Who don’t want to participate in this game at all — neither to personally profit from it, nor to have their privacy trampled by it?

The problem is the push and pull of platforms against privacy has become so aggressive, so virulent, that societal norms that protect and benefit us all — like empathy, like respect — are getting squeezed and sucked in.

The ugliness is especially visible in these ‘viral’ moments when other people’s lives are snatched and consumed voraciously on the hoof — as yet more content for rapacious feeds.

#PlaneBae

Think too of the fitness celebrity who posted a creepshot + commentary about a less slim person working out at their gym.

Or the YouTuber parents who monetize videos of their kids’ distress.

Or the men who post creepshots of women eating in public — and try to claim it’s an online art project rather than what it actually is: A privacy violation and misogynistic attack.

Or, on a public street in London one day, I saw a couple of giggling teenage girls watching a man at a bus stop who was clearly mentally unwell. Pulling out a smartphone, one girl hissed to the other: “We’ve got to put this on YouTube.”

For platforms built by technologists without thought for anything other than growth, everything is a potential spectacle. Everything is a potential post.

So they press on their users to think less. And they profit at society’s expense.

It’s only now, after social media has embedded itself everywhere, that platforms are being called out for their moral vacuum; for building systems that encourage abject mindlessness in users — and serve up content so bleak it represents a form of visual cancer.

#PlaneBae

Human have always told stories. Weaving our own narratives is both how we communicate and how we make sense of personal experience — creating order out of events that are often disorderly, random, even chaotic.

The human condition demands a degree of pattern-spotting for survival’s sake; so we can pick our individual path out of the gloom.

But platforms are exploiting that innate aspect of our character. And we, as individuals, need to get much, much better at spotting what they’re doing to us.

We need to recognize how they are manipulating us; what they are encouraging us to do — with each new feature nudge and dark pattern design choice.

We need to understand their underlying pull. The fact they profit by setting us as spies against each other. We need to wake up, personally and collectively, to social media’s antisocial impacts.

Perspective should not have to come at the expense of other people getting hurt.

This week the women whose privacy was thoughtlessly repackaged as public entertainment when she was branded and broadcast as #PlaneBae — and who has suffered harassment and yet more unwelcome attention as a direct result — gave a statement to Business Insider.

“#PlaneBae is not a romance — it is a digital-age cautionary tale about privacy, identity, ethics and consent,” she writes. “Please continue to respect my privacy, and my desire to remain anonymous.”

And as a strategy to push against the antisocial incursions of social media, remembering to respect people’s privacy is a great place to start.

YouTube TV subscribers get a free week after World Cup meltdown

When one of the main selling points for your service is the ability to stream live sports, the last thing you want is a full-on service meltdown during a huge game.

Alas, that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday to YouTube TV. Just as the World Cup semi-finals game between Croatia and England started heating up, <a href=”http://the service went dark.

As something of a mea culpa, YouTube has sent out an email to subscribers promising a free week of YouTube TV service. With most users paying ~$40 a month for the service, that works out to about $10 off their next bill. Curiously, user reports suggest the refund is going out to most, if not all, YouTube TV users — not just those who were watching (or, you know, trying to watch) the game in question.

Meanwhile, some users have noted that reaching out directly to customer service lead to them getting a full month for free — so if you’re still feeling a bit burned by the whole thing, that might be something worth pursuing.

If you’re a subscriber but aren’t seeing the notice, check your spam box — some users in this Reddit thread are mentioning finding the notice hiding in there, or tucked away in the “social” tab in Gmail’s split view.

European MEPs vote to reopen copyright debate over ‘censorship’ controversy

A 318-278 majority of MEPs in the European Parliament has just voted to reopen debate around a controversial digital copyright reform proposal — meaning it will now face further debate and scrutiny, rather than be fast-tracked towards becoming law via the standard EU trilogue negotiation process.

Crucially it means MEPs will have the chance to amend the controversial proposals.

Last month the EU parliament’s legal affairs committee approved the final text of the copyright proposal — including approving its two most controversial articles — kicking off a last ditch effort by groups opposed to what they dub the ‘link tax’ and ‘censorship machines’ to marshal MEPs to reopen debate and be able to amend the proposal.

The copyright reform is controversial largely on account of two articles:

  • Article 11 — which proposes to create a neighboring right for snippets of journalistic content in order to target news aggregator business models, like Google News, which publishers have long argued are unfairly profiting from their work.

Similar ancillary copyright laws have previously been enacted in Germany and Spain — and in the latter market, where the licensing requirement was not flexible, Google News closed up shop entirely, leading, say critics, to decreased traffic referrals to Spanish news sites.

  • Article 13 — which makes Internet platforms that host large amounts of user-uploaded content directly liable for copyright infringements by their users, and would likely push platforms such as YouTube towards pre-filtering all user generated content at the point of upload, with all the associated potential chilling effects if/when algorithms fail to recognize fair use of a copyrighted work, for instance.

Article 13 is arguably the more controversial element of the two, and it is certainly where opposition campaigning has been fiercest. Though it has strong support from musicians and the music industry who have spent years fighting YouTube, arguing it exploits legal protections around music videos viewed on its service and pays lower royalties than they are due.

In the opposition camp, a broad coalition of digital rights organizations, startup groups, Internet architects, computer scientists, academics and web advocates — including the likes of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf, Bruce Schneier, Jimmy Wales and Mitch Kapor, who in an open letter last month argued that Article 13 “takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users”.

This week several European language versions of Wikipedia also blacked out encyclopedia content in a ‘going dark’ protest against the proposals, though the European Commission has claimed online encyclopedias would not be impacted by Article 13.

A claim that is, however, disputed by opponents…

An online petition calling for MEPs to vote for the parliament to be able to amend the proposals had gathered more than 850,000 signatures at the time of the vote.

Right ahead of the vote, MEPs heard brief statements in favor and against fast tracking the proposal.

Speaking in favor, MEP Axel Voss — rapporteur on the legal affairs committee which voted in favor of the text last month — said the proposals are intended to end “the exploitation of European artists on the Internet”.

“We’re talking about the major US platforms like Google and Facebook that have been making huge profits at the cost of European creatives. We need to prevent that,” he said. “And I think it is inexplicable how some people want to support this Internet capitalism, while others are calling for America first an abusing data and exploiting our creatives. We should be standing at the side of our European creators, and otherwise there is a risk of creative insolvency.”

“Why would we be against wanting to prevent copyright violations, why would we be against fair remuneration of creatives, and getting these large platforms to take more responsibility,” he added. “The campaign that we’re subject to, from Google, Facebook, that are meeting with children of MEPs — all of this is based on lies. There are no limits being put for individual users, every person can continue to set up links and carry out their uploads with legal certainty.”

Speaking against the proposal being fast-tracked — to allow for what she described as a “broad, fact-based debate” — was MEP Catherine Stihler, rapporteur on the internal market and consumer protection committee, which had joint competency on Article 13 of the proposal but whose position she said had not been taken into account in the text agreed by the (Juri) legal affairs committee, saying their text “does not achieve the needed balance”.

“We are all united in our shared mission to protect artists and cultural diversity in Europe… In our committee we were able to reach a broad compromise that makes meaningful progress on the value gap but at the same time safeguarding the rights of European Internet users, SMEs and startups,” said Stihler.

“There are real concerns about the effect of Article 13 on freedom of expression, raised by experts ranging from the UN special rapporteur David Kaye to the inventor of the world wide web, sir Tim Berners-Lee. And real concerns voiced by our citizens, just yesterday I received a petition signed by almost a million people against the Juri committee mandate. And although there is consensus — and I do believe there is consensus about the goals behind this law — huge controversy still exists about the methods proposed, something’s not right here. We owe it to the experts, stakeholders and citizens to give this directive the full debate necessary to achieve broad support.”

The outcome of today’s vote means copyright lobbyists on both sides of the fence face a busy summer — ahead of debate, the chance for amendments to the text and another vote, now set to take place in the EU parliament in September.

European Consumer Organisation, BEUC, welcomed today’s vote in the parliament.

In a statement, its DG, Monique Goyens, said: “This is a big decision in the fight to prevent large-scale and systematic filtering of online content from becoming the norm. The legislative debate urgently needs re-direction. The Internet must remain a place where consumers can freely share own creations, opinions and ideas. MEPs have a chance to correct a heavily unbalanced report and make copyright work for both consumer and creators.”

Not so happy: The Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music (Sacem), whose secretary general, David El Sayegh, described it as “a set-back but it is not the end”.

“Sacem remains dedicated to ensuring that creators are recognised and remunerated for the value of their work,” he added in a statement. “We will not be discouraged by today’s decision and will continue to mobilise the support of musicians and music lovers across the world, in the hopes of reaching a fair agreement with these platforms that will safeguard the future of the music industry.

“We are confident that the European Parliament will eventually support a framework that fully acknowledges the rights of creators in the digital landscape of the 21st century.”

Wikipedia goes dark in Spanish, Italian ahead of key EU vote on copyright

Wikipedia’s Italian and Spanish language versions have temporarily shut off access to their respective versions of the free online encyclopedia in Europe to protest against controversial components of a copyright reform package ahead of a key vote in the EU parliament tomorrow.

The protest follows a vote by the EU parliament’s legal affairs committee last month which backed the reforms — including the two most controversial elements: Article 13, which makes platforms directly liable for copyright infringements by their users — pushing them towards pre-filtering all content uploads, with all the associated potential chilling effects for free expression; and Article 11, which targets news aggregator business models by creating a neighboring right for snippets of journalistic content — aka ‘the link tax’, as critics dub it.

Visitors to Wikipedia in many parts of the EU (and further afield) are met with a banner which urges them to defend the open Internet against the controversial proposal by calling their MEP to voice their opposition to a measure critics describe as ‘censorship machines’, warning it will “weaken the values, culture and ecosystem on which Wikipedia is based”.

Clicking on a button to ‘call your MEP’ links through to anti-Article 13 campaign website, saveyourinternet.eu, where users can search for the phone number of their MEP and/or send an email to protest against the measure. The initiative is backed by a large coalition of digital and civil rights groups  — including the EFF, the Open Rights Group, and the Center for Democracy & Technology.

In a longer letter to visitors explaining its action, the Spanish Wikipedia community writes that: “If the proposal were approved in its current version, actions such as sharing a news item on social networks or accessing it through a search engine would become more complicated on the Internet; Wikipedia itself would be at risk.”

The Spanish language version of Wikipedia will remain dark throughout the EU parliament vote — which is due to take place at 10 o’clock (UTC) on July 5.

“We want to continue offering an open, free, collaborative and free work with verifiable content. We call on all members of the European Parliament to vote against the current text, to open it up for discussion and to consider the numerous proposals of the Wikimedia movement to protect access to knowledge; among them, the elimination of articles 11 and 13, the extension of the freedom of panorama to the whole EU and the preservation of the public domain,” it adds.

The Italian language version of Wikipedia went dark yesterday.

While the protest banners about the reform are appearing widely across Wikipedia, the decisions to block out encyclopedia content are less widespread — and are being taken by each local community of editors.

As you’d expect, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has been a very vocal critic of Article 13 — including lashing out at whoever was in control of the European Commission’s Twitter feed yesterday when they tried to suggest that online encyclopedias will not be affected by the proposal — by suggesting they would not be “considered” to be giving access to “large amounts of unauthorised protected content” by claiming most of their content would fall outside the scope of the law because it’s covered by Creative Commons licenses. (An interpretation of the proposed rules that anti-Article 13 campaigners dispute.)

And the commissioners drafting this portion of the directive do appear to have been mostly intending to regulate YouTube — which has been a target for record industry ire in recent years, over the relatively small royalties paid to artists vs streaming music services.

But critics argue this is a wrongheaded, sledgehammer-to-crack a nut approach to lawmaking — which will have the unintended consequence of damaging free expression and access to information online.

Wales shot back at the EC’s tweet — saying it’s “deeply inappropriate for the European Commission to be lobbying publicly and misleading the public in this way”.

A little later in the same Twitter thread, as more users had joined the argument, he added: “The Wikipedia community is not so narrow minded as to let the rest of the Internet suffer just because we are big enough that they try to throw us a bone. Justice matters.”

The EU parliament will vote as a whole tomorrow — when we’ll find out whether or not MEPs have been swayed by this latest #SaveYourInternet campaign.

YouTube’s picture-in-picture mode is live for all US Android users

YouTube has confirmed that picture-in-picture mode — previously a paid-only feature — has now rolled out to all U.S. YouTube users on Android on supported devices. The feature, which works on Android 8.0 (Oreo) or higher, had been slowly rolling out to non-Premium subscribers since this April we understand, and the full rollout completed on Monday.

The website XDA Developers was the first to spot the expansion, noting earlier this week that it seemed as if picture-in-picture mode had suddenly been turned on for several more YouTube users. They suspected that this had been a gradual launch, but didn’t confirm the status with YouTube directly.

Picture-in-picture mode, as you likely understand by its name, allows you to continue watching a video in a small window as you continue to browse YouTube, or even use other apps.

It’s an especially helpful addition to the service, but had only been offered to YouTube Premium (previously known as YouTube Red) customers following its launch last year.

The feature is an improvement over the current system of watching while browsing on iOS, as well, which instead places a floating strip at the bottom of the app where the video plays in a very small thumbnail. YouTube has not announced its plans for a related iOS update. But it would not be able to work in the same way in terms of placing a floating widget that hovers over top of the home screen or other apps — that’s something only Android users can do.

YouTube introduces channel memberships, merchandise and premieres

YouTube creators are gaining a number of new tools to generate revenue from their videos outside of traditional advertising, as well as those that will help them better engage their fans, according to news the video streaming site announced today at the VidCon conference in Anaheim, California. This includes the rollout of channel memberships, merchandising, marketing partnerships via FameBit and the launch of “Premieres,” which offers a middle ground between pre-recorded, edited video and live streaming.

Memberships

Before today, YouTube had offered a Twitch-like “Sponsorship” model on YouTube Gaming. This gave fans the ability to sponsor a channel for $4.99 per month, which also gave them access to exclusive digital goods, like a custom badge and emoji.

YouTube started testing this program across its larger video network last fall, it said. Those tests led to YouTube channel memberships.

Unlike on YouTube gaming, Channel memberships have additional requirements.

Creators will need to have 100,000 subscribers or more, be over 18 and be members of the YouTube Partner Program.

However, the price point for backing a creator’s channel remains the same: $4.99 per month, and includes the custom badges and exclusive emoji.

It will also allow subscribers to gain access to members-only posts in the Community tab where creators will share custom perks from time to time, like access to an exclusive live stream, additional videos, shout-outs, news of upcoming events, early access to ticket sales and other things.

YouTube says it will vet these perks manually, to ensure they meet YouTube’s guidelines and are something the creator can actually deliver.

“This tool set is fairly powerful, so we want to make sure that they don’t put products out there, that they really can’t commit to,” explains Director of Product Management, Rohit Dhawan, who heads alternative monetization at YouTube.

He says the perks can be almost anything the creator wants to offer, within YouTube’s guidelines.

“It’s kind of like a blank canvas…it’s us giving the creators the tools to customize their membership offering and provide whatever perks that they feel is going to be valuable to the fans,” he says.

This feature launched in January for select creators, who have already been generating revenue. It will soon arrive for all who are eligible.

Comedy creator Mike Falzone more than tripled his YouTube revenue, thanks to memberships, says YouTube. Spanish gaming channel elrubiusOMG now has six times the number of members as it did sponsors on YouTube Gaming alone. And Wintergatan is making over 50 percent of revenue from Channel Memberships.

Overall, the number of creators earning five figures a year is up 35 percent, and the number of those earning six figures is up by 40 percent, YouTube says.

Similar to sponsorships, YouTube retains 30 percent of sponsorship revenue after local sales tax is deducted, but covers all transaction costs, including credit card fees.

Merchandise

In addition to memberships, creators will also be able to sell to fans directly, starting today.

In a shelf directly below the video itself, creators with more than 10,000 subscribers can offer merchandise like tee-shirts, hats, phone cases or any one of over 20 different merchandise items that make sense for their channel.

For example, the creator of Lucas the Spider turned his character into a plushie, and sold more than 60,000 units, making over $1 million in profit in just 18 days.

This new program is being launched in partnership with custom merchandise platform Teespring.

YouTube says that Teespring will retain a cut of the merchandise, which varies per item. Effectively, the way this works is that there’s a flat price per item sold that goes back to Teespring, but the creator can mark up the item to whatever price they want, then keep the upside.

For example, a single t-shirt’s base price is $10.22, but creators typically sell them for $22. However, if the creators sells 200-499 t-shirts, the base price drops to $9.82, so the creator makes more money.

But YouTube has also negotiated a deal with Teespring where it receives a commission on those sales — a small flat percentage, we’re told — the majority of which is returned to the creator. This is meant to incentivize the creator to sell merchandise through YouTube, as they’ll receive more thanks to this returned commission than if they sold direct.

This is also a massive win for Teespring, which only a few years ago was restructuring its business and laying off staff.

During beta testing, Teespring says there was an 82 percent success rate for YouTubers using the merchandise service, and conversions from views to sales were testing at 2.5 times higher than with standard description links. This led to an average of 25 percent more units sold per user, among early adopters.

In addition, creators who have been connected directly with brand sponsorships via FameBit, the company it acquired in fall 2016, will also be able to use the merchandise shelf to point fans to whatever they’re selling — like video games, apparel or any other product sold online. This feature was announced at VidCon, but hasn’t rolled out at this time.

Premieres

Finally, YouTubers who want to leverage the revenue generation possibilities that come with Live video will have a way to do so without having to actually go live.

Instead, they can use a new YouTube feature called “Premieres” that creates a landing page they can promote ahead of a video’s release. This page will also have a chat feature, like Live videos do, which means creators can use Super Chat and take advantage of Channel Membership perks even if they aren’t doing live content.

The videos are uploaded in the same interface on YouTube, so there’s no new workflow to learn beyond toggling the “Premiere” switch on.

Creators can also join in the chats as the video goes live to engage with their fans around this pre-recorded content, as well as comment on the videos before they start. When the Premiere wraps, it’s posted as a regular video on the site (without the two-minute countdown video YouTube adds).

“We’re going to use our search and discovery platform to promote these,” notes Kurt Wilms, Group Product Manager at YouTube, who’s leading Live.

“Upcoming premieres can appear on the [YouTube] homepage and in recommended videos,” he says. Premieres will also show in the section where all the channel content you’ve subscribed to displays, we’re told. And Premieres will be in YouTube search and YouTube related videos.

“They’re going to appear across all the dedicated discovery portions of our site, which is awesome,” he says.

Premieres can be used to promote upcoming videos from creators as well as things like new movie trailers from studios, trailers from video games, or even music videos. But Premieres is not tied to YouTube Music at this time.

A number of YouTube creators will be turning on Premieres after VidCon, including Simon & MartinaLeroy SanchezJackson BirdLos PolinesiosAri FitzZerkaaPlaysTheskorpionshow, Laura KampfVintage SpaceYammyR.LUM.R.JacksFilmsCorridor Digital and Innana Sarkis.

YouTube also said its version of Stories will arrive for all eligible creators with more than 10,000 subscribers later this year.

The announcements come at a critical time for YouTube, as Facebook is trying to woo creators away to its own network and video hub with unique features of its own.

The news also follows another announcement YouTube made to advertisers this week, about new ways they’ll be able to connect with their audience using a Creative Suite of ad tools.

Instagram’s “IGTV” video hub for creators launches tomorrow

TechCrunch has learned that the Instagram longer-form video hub that’s launching tomorrow is called IGTV and it will be part of the Explore tab, according to multiple sources. Instagram has spent the week meeting with online content creators to encourage them to prepare videos closer to 10-minute YouTube vlogs than the 1-minute maximum videos the app allows today.

Instagram is focusing its efforts around web celebrities that made their name on mobile rather than more traditional, old-school publishers and TV studios that might come off too polished and processed. The idea is to let these creators, who have a knack for this style of content and who already have sizeable Instagram audiences, set the norms for what IGTV is about.

Instagram declined to comment on the name IGTV and the video hub’s home in app’s Explore tab. We’ll get more information at the feature’s launch event in San Francisco tomorrow at 9am Pacific.

Following the WSJ’s initial report that Instagram was working on allowing longer videos, TechCrunch learned much more from sources about the company’s plan to build an aggregated destination for watching this content akin to Snapchat Discover. The videos will be full-screen, vertically oriented, and can have a resolution up to 4K. Users will be greeted with collection of Popular recent videos, and the option to Continue Watching clips they didn’t finish.

The videos aren’t meant to compete with Netflix Originals or HBO-quality content. Instead, they’ll be the kind of things you might see on YouTube rather than the short, off-the-cuff social media clips Instagram has hosted to date. Videos will offer a link-out option so creators can drive traffic to their other social presences, websites, or ecommerce stores. Instagram is planning to offer direct monetization, potentially including advertising revenue shares, but hasn’t finalized how that will work.

We reported that the tentative launch date for the feature was June 20th. A week later, Instagram sent out press invites for an event on June 20th our sources confirm is for IGTV.

Based on its historic growth trajectory that has seen Instagram adding 100 million users every four months, and its announcement of 800 million in September 2017, it’s quite possible that Instagram will announce it’s hit 1 billion monthly users tomorrow. That could legitimize IGTV as a place creators want to be for exposure, not just monetization.

IGTV could create a new behavior pattern for users who are bored of their friends’ content, or looking for something to watch in between Direct messages. If successful, Instagram might even consider breaking out IGTV into its own mobile app, or building it an app for smart TVs

The launch is important for Facebook because it lacks a popular video destination since its Facebook Watch hub was somewhat of a flop. Facebook today said it would expand Watch to more creators, while also offering new interactive video tools to let them make their own HQ trivia-style game shows. Facebook also launched its Brand Collabs Manager that helps businesses find creators to sponsor. That could help IGTV stars earn money through product placement or sponsored content.

Until now, video consumption in the Facebook family of apps has been largely serendipitous, with users stumbling across clips in their News Feed. IGTV will let it more directly compete with YouTube, where people purposefully come to watch specific videos from their favorite creators. But YouTube was still built in the web era with a focus on horizontal video that’s awkward to watch on iPhones or Androids.

With traditional television viewership slipping, Facebook’s size and advertiser connections could let it muscle into the lucrative space. But rather than try to port old-school TV shows to phones, IGTV could let creators invent a new vision for television on mobile.

Teens dump Facebook for YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat

A Pew survey of teens and the ways they use technology finds that kids have largely ditched Facebook for the visually stimulating alternatives of Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram. Nearly half said they’re online “almost constantly,” which will probably be used as a source of FUD, but really is just fine. Even teens, bless their honest little hearts, have doubts about whether social media is good or evil.

The survey is the first by Pew since 2015, and plenty has changed. The one that has driven the most change seems to be the ubiquity and power of smartphones, which 95 percent of respondents said they had access to. Fewer, especially among lower income families, had laptops and desktops.

This mobile-native cohort has opted for mobile-native content and apps, which means highly visual and easily browsable. That’s much more the style on the top three apps: YouTube takes first place with 85 percent reporting they use it, then Instagram at 72 percent, and Snapchat at 69.

Facebook, at 51 percent, is a far cry from the 71 percent who used it back in 2015, when it was top of the heap by far. Interestingly, the 51 percent average is not representative of any of the income groups polled; 36 percent of higher income households used it, while 70 percent of teens from lower income households did.

What could account for this divergence? The latest and greatest hardware isn’t required to run the top three apps, nor (necessarily) an expensive data plan. With no data to go on from the surveys and no teens nearby to ask, I’ll leave this to the professionals to look into. No doubt Facebook will be interested to learn this — though who am I kidding, it probably knows already. (There’s even a teen tutorial.)

Twice as many teens reported being “online constantly,” but really, it’s hard to say when any of us is truly “offline.” Teens aren’t literally looking at their phones all day, much as that may seem to be the case, but they — and the rest of us — are rarely more than a second or two away from checking messages, looking something up and so on. I’m surprised the “constantly” number isn’t higher, honestly.

Gaming is still dominated by males, almost all of whom play in some fashion, but 83 percent of teen girls also said they gamed, so the gap is closing.

When asked whether social media had a positive or negative effect, teens were split. They valued it for connecting with friends and family, finding news and information and meeting new people. But they decried its use in bullying and spreading rumors, its complicated effect on in-person relationships and how it distracts from and distorts real life.

Here are some quotes from real teens demonstrating real insight.

Those who feel it has an overall positive effect:

  • “I feel that social media can make people my age feel less lonely or alone. It creates a space where you can interact with people.”
  • “My mom had to get a ride to the library to get what I have in my hand all the time. She reminds me of that a lot.”
  • “We can connect easier with people from different places and we are more likely to ask for help through social media which can save people.”
  • “It has given many kids my age an outlet to express their opinions and emotions, and connect with people who feel the same way.”

And those who feel it’s negative:

  • “People can say whatever they want with anonymity and I think that has a negative impact.”
  • “Gives people a bigger audience to speak and teach hate and belittle each other.”
  • “It makes it harder for people to socialize in real life, because they become accustomed to not interacting with people in person.”
  • “Because teens are killing people all because of the things they see on social media or because of the things that happened on social media.”

That last one is scary.

You can read the rest of the report and scrutinize Pew’s methodology here.

YouTube rolls out new tools to help you stop watching

Google’s YouTube is the first streaming app that will actually tell users to stop watching. At its Google I/O conference this week, the company introduced a series of new controls for YouTube that will allow users to set limits on their viewing, and then receive reminders telling them to “take a break.” The feature is rolling out now in the latest version of YouTube’s app, along with others that limit YouTube’s ability to send notifications, and soon, one that gives users an overview of their binge behavior so they can make better-informed decisions about their viewing habits.

With “Take a Break,” available from YouTube’s mobile app Settings screen, users can set a reminder to appear every 15, 30, 60, 90 or 180 minutes, at which point the video will pause. You can then choose to dismiss the reminder and keep watching, or close the app.

The setting is optional, and is turned off by default, so it’s not likely to have a large impact on YouTube viewing time at this point.

Also new is a feature that lets you disable notification sounds during a specified time period each day — say, for example, from bedtime until the next morning. When users turn on the setting to disable notifications, it will, by default, disable them from 10 PM to 8 AM local time, but this can be changed.

Combined with this is an option to get a scheduled digest of notifications as an alternative. This setting combines all the daily push notifications into a single combined notification that is sent out only once per day. This is also off by default, but can be turned on in the app’s settings.

And YouTube is preparing to roll out a “time watched profile” that will appear in the Account menu and display your daily average watch time, and how long you’ve watched YouTube videos today, yesterday and over the past week, along with a set of tools to help you manage your viewing habits.

While these changes to YouTube are opt-in, it’s an interesting — and arguably responsible — position to take in terms of helping people manage their sometimes addictive behaviors around technology.

And it’s not the only major change Google is rolling out on the digital well-being front — the company also announced a series of Android features that will help you get a better handle on how often you’re using your phone and apps, and give you tools to limit distractions — like a Do Not Disturb setting, alerts that are silenced when the phone is flipped over and a “Wind Down” mode for nighttime usage that switches on the Do Not Disturb mode and turns the screen to gray-scale.

The digital well-being movement at Google got its start with a 144-page Google Slides presentation from product manager Tristan Harris, who was working on Google’s Inbox app at the time. After a trip to Burning Man, he came back convinced that technology products weren’t always designed with users’ best interests in mind. The memo went viral and found its way to then-CEO Larry Page, who promoted Harris to “design ethicist” and made digital well-being a company focus.

There’s now a Digital Wellbeing website, too, that talks about Google’s broader efforts on this front. On the site, the company touts features in other products that save people time, like Gmail’s high-priority notifications that only alert you to important emails; Google Photos’ automated editing tools; Android Auto’s distracted driving reduction tools; Google Assistant’s ability to turn on your phone’s DND mode or start a “bedtime routine” to dim your lights and quiet your music; Family Link’s tools for reducing kids’ screen time; Google WiFi’s support for “internet breaks;” and more.

Google is not the only company rethinking its role with regard to how much its technology should infiltrate our lives. Facebook, too, recently re-prioritized well-being over time spent on the site reading news, and saw its daily active users decline as a result.

But in Google’s case, some are cynical about the impact of the new tools — unlike Facebook’s changes, which the social network implemented itself, Google’s tools are opt-in. That means it’s up to users to take control over their own technology addictions, whether that’s their phone in general, or YouTube specifically. Google knows that the large majority won’t take the time to configure these settings, so it can pat itself on the back for its prioritization of digital well-being without taking a real hit to its bottom line.

Still, it’s notable that any major tech platform is doing this at all — and it’s at least a step in the right direction in terms of allowing people to reset their relationship with technology.

And in YouTube’s case, the option to “Take a Break” is at the very top of its Settings screen. If anyone ever heads into their settings for any reason, they’ll be sure to see it.

The new features are available in version 13.17 and higher of the YouTube mobile app on both iOS and Android, which is live now.

The changes were announced on May 8 during the I/O keynote, and will take a few days to roll out to all YouTube users. The “time watched profile,” however, will ship in the “coming months,” Google says.