Who owns the relationship? That seems to be the broad question that has erupted during the latest string of back-and-forth accusations over YouTube’s partnership with creators. As the industry continues to undergo recurrent growing pains typical to the setting, new revelations emerge daily from both sides of the argument about YouTube’s ability (or inability depending on who’s writing) to hone a creator-friendly model.
To recap: YouTube is good. YouTube is bad. It’s a YouTube-first strategy versus a YouTube-only strategy. YouTube sustainability is impossible so everyone should abandon ship. Yet a closer look by ComScore shows that top creators' O&O sites have no audience whatsoever. Logically, the argument goes round and round.
At our company ChiWay Entertainment, we represent thousands of user-generated clips. For each viral-style video we license and acquire, we’re constantly exploring new business opportunities to expand their inherent value within YouTube and beyond. Because we carefully monitor the type of long-term strategic brand partnerships that come forth, we remain steadfast in our approach to build unique content brands – ones that remain unaffected by YouTube tax and MCN monetization splits. Our focus has always been on enhancing the viewing experience and distributing desirable content to our audience. If a brand aligns with that strategy in a seamless transition, we can build something valuable together.
That is where the conversation becomes vital to the growth and sustainability of traditional YouTube talent. As the shift towards original content becomes the focal point, it’s imperative that these personalities develop alternative revenue solutions to their channel. With so much emphasis on YouTube channels and personalities "owning" their audience and converting them to other platforms, I think the larger debate here is the importance on the relationship we "own" with advertisers. It’s something that Jason Calacanis argued in his remarks about YouTube funding. He noted that YouTube created this intentional barrier between publisher and marketer to distance creators from the equation. Even if his comments ring true in some capacity, does that really affect the successful and sustainable business model of an ambitious content creator?
If YouTube is to become television of the future, or some variation of it that our industry has yet to define, the relationship with advertisers is paramount to their bottom-line business. And they’re going to develop custom solutions with key marketers, like the newly announced Brand Labs division, to expand well beyond standard media placements. But that doesn’t mean we’re exempt from the conversation either.
So again it begs the question, who owns that relationship? It all comes back to creating access and being educated on the brand opportunities that aren’t controlled by YouTube. If we can all agree that YouTube owns the audience, we should also recognize that creators dramatically influence the audience. And that influence is what can drive views, engagement, and ultimately revenue.
YouTube may take a percentage of the money they helped you earn, but they don’t claim ownership of the content. That is 100% yours. That is your brand identity, your ticket to paradise. The supposed ‘owned’ audience that remains captivated by your brand is also valuable and transferable in ways that YouTube does not benefit from. Just as easily as they take a “tax” for hosting your content, they remove themselves from almost every other categorical and potentially limitless revenue stream attributed to your brand extension. Whether you’re selling t-shirts, albums, live event tickets, or even developing your own TV program, YouTube allows you to own it without any royalty. That’s pretty rare and pretty fascinating given the nature of the beast. Content and brand are exclusively yours. And the relationships born out of those extensions, whenever and wherever they’re formed, can all be credited to originating on their platform.
At the end of the day, it’s about building trust and equity with brands to capitalize on your audience engagement. That’s something that should be a direct line of communication. Not a reliance on a third party. Just as you control the content and define your own brand image, you should be doing more to control the inventory. In that moment, you will better manage the relationships with brand marketers that could prove effective for long-term sustainability. YouTube is not the obstruction, but rather the catalyst for conversation. It's up to you where that conversation goes.