We Are Living in an Adpocalypse

“Do you want to skip this ad?” We’re all familiar with that annoying little question as we wait for the cat videos to buffer. We live in a world where we are bombarded by marketing methods at every turn and people are starting to become pros at avoiding them. Why, YouTube, would anyone not want to skip the ad?

But what most people don’t realize when they’re sitting through commercials is that YouTube has become a realistic job for thousands of people. The voices and minds behind those funny viral videos or cooking tutorials rely on viewers watching ads to make their money. On YouTube, creators can start earning paychecks as soon as their channel generates $100 in ad revenue. Without those ads, they have nothing.

However, YouTube’s latest algorithm, rolled out in April and finalized in July, restricts ad revenue on all videos deemed inappropriate for a child under five years old. Brands can choose to freeze ads on videos that contain conflict, profanity, or sensational or shocking images. This algorithm was designed to protect advertisers, but is hurting the content creators in the long run, most of which are making only a fraction of what they made before April.

Big names in the YouTube community like Felix ‘PewDiePie’ Kjellberg and h3h3productions reported as much as an 80% drop in income in just one month after the new guidelines were established. For people like Kjellberg making $4 million a year, this is not going to destroy them overnight. But for smaller YouTubers like CinnamonToastKen and SuperMaryFace who rely on their $150,000 income to support their family, it’s a much bigger problem. Creators started calling it the ‘Adpocalypse.’

This has become a heated issue in the YouTube community not only because it prioritizes money over content, but because it threatens the livelihoods of the creators and actively drives them to other sites. A mass migration has started to private streaming services like Twitch and SlingTV where subscribers have to pay a monthly fee to enjoy the same content they could previously get for free on YouTube. Some creators have also turned to crowdfunding sites like Patreon, where people can donate money directly to a cause.

Creators don’t want to force their followers to pay for a subscription, but they require a stable income in uncertain times. YouTube has put their creative talent in an uncomfortable place: conform to the new rules or jump ship while you still can.

For some, speaking up in spite of the repercussions is more important now than ever. Popular political and social commentator Phillip DeFranco believes YouTube is taking a gamble with these new standards. “By taking away monetization, it is a form of censorship,” he said in a recent video, after his channel lost 75% of its ad revenue for discussing “sensitive content.”

Sensitive content is defined here as any videos that contain swearing, violence, political commentary, and LGBT or sexual themes. The Adpocalypse has, at the very least, sparked an interesting debate about free speech and what people want to see. YouTube has the right to moderate their community, but where do they draw the line? When every creator has either broken their backs to fit the mold or when YouTube becomes a ghost town?

YouTube stars have risen to fame on the content they’ve created. Why only now should they sacrifice their audience for a brand new, brand friendly generation? They know what people want, they know how to give it to them, and they should not be silenced.

What has people so confused and upset is the fact that YouTube seems to be taking on the role of a parent for the youngest members of their audience. Why are we letting the interests of five year olds dictate what we watch online anyway? This is especially perplexing when YouTube already has a separate website called YouTube Kids for the explicit reason of filtering what children have access to.

Things get even more confusing when the advertisements YouTube runs on their ‘kid-friendly’ videos are often for casinos or alcohol. Advertisements are also still run on known Neo-Nazi and white supremacist channels. But a guy dropping the F-bomb while playing a video game or reporting the news is simply too scandalous for public consumption.

The executives at Google need to consider what they want YouTube to be in five years. They need to communicate with their creators because without them they have nothing. Where the talent goes, the viewers (and the money) will follow, and with livelihoods and families at stake, the talent is going far away from YouTube.

So… do you still want to skip this ad?