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YouTube has likely never faced as much competition from other platforms as it does today. Facebook, Instagram, Amazon’s Twitch, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok are among the biggest platforms vying for the Google-owned video platform’s talent. Yet YouTube stars feel like there is not much competition for YouTube at the moment. They wish that would change.
YouTube stars crave more competition for YouTube for a host of reasons. While YouTube effectively made the market for individuals to generate income from independently creating videos and posting them online, they do not want to be overly reliant on any single platform and vulnerable to that platform’s constant algorithm changes that affect their ability to make a living. YouTube’s brand safety issues and corresponding demonetization of creators’ videos — “adpocalypse,” as creators call it — “was a jolt for a lot of creators who hadn’t thought of their business as more than just YouTube. People had the stark realization that you need your fingers in more things in order to be okay,” said Mari Takahashi, a creator with 292,000 subscribers on YouTube.
The YouTube stars interviewed for this article acknowledged that the platform has been strongly supportive of creators. Since rolling out its ad revenue sharing program in December 2007, the company has paid creators to produce episodic shows, connected advertisers to creators to produce sponsored videos, hosted creator summits to solicit their feedback and keep them informed and added features to creators to make money directly from their fans by selling subscriptions and merchandise. However, as supportive as YouTube has been of creators, YouTube stars believe that competition would compel YouTube to do more to support creators.
“Competition forces the platform to change and become better,” said Joey Graceffa, a creator with 9 million subscribers on YouTube.
Graceffa spoke from experience, having seen a potential rival prod YouTube to invest more in its creators. In 2014, former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar was trying to steal away top YouTube talent for the video platform he was building called Vessel, offering to pay creators in advance to sign year-long exclusivity deals to post their videos to Vessel three days before YouTube. Vessel’s attempt to poach YouTube’s stars pushed Google’s video platform to respond.
“Vessel is kind of the reason I got my YouTube show. YouTube came in with a counter [offer] to be like, ‘Please don’t go to Vessel. We’ll give you money to create a show,’” Graceffa said. YouTube’s offer to keep Graceffa away from Vessel led to the creation of the scripted series that Graceffa produces and stars in for YouTube called “Escape the Night,” which premiered its fourth season on July 11.
Asked if YouTube faces similar competition from other platforms today, Graceffa said no. Other YouTube stars interviewed last week at digital video convention VidCon agreed. But, like Graceffa, they held out hope that they will change soon.
“There isn’t a competitor out there at the moment that is a direct competitor to YouTube. That said, something like a TikTok that can grow like fire is looming around the corner,” said Takahashi.
However, while YouTube stars see the potential in platforms like TikTok to give YouTube a run for creators’ content, that’s all they see: potential. YouTube has served as the gold standard for creators to make a living from their videos since rolling out its ad revenue-sharing program in December 2007. For a creator like Graceffa or Takahashi to invest in regularly producing videos for another platform, they need to know that they won’t be sacrificing their income to do so.
The need for YouTube stars to cover their own costs has impeded Instagram’s ability to attract these creators to its would-be YouTube rival, IGTV. With 1.8 million followers on Instagram and 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube, Denzel Dion would appear to be a YouTube creator ripe for Instagram to convert into an IGTV star. But, although he uploads a video to IGTV once a week, he is more invested in YouTube for one simple reason. “YouTube is monetized; IGTV is not,” he said.
The lack of YouTube-style revenue-sharing program for IGTV has made the platform a hobby for YouTube stars like Dion as well as Takahashi. She has signed a couple of sponsorship deals for her IGTV videos, but largely considers IGTV a passion project. “It renewed my desire to edit again,” she said, equating the process of learning how to edit videos for IGTV to her early days editing videos for YouTube.
However, YouTube stars are not hobbyists. They are in the business of producing and posting videos online, so when they are investing in producing videos for a platform, it’s a business decision. That is why, after Joslyn Davis and Lily Marston left YouTube network Clevver to form their own digital video company Shared Media, they started on YouTube. The pair decided to launch Shared Media on YouTube in June because it is the platform that they know and have had success with in the past, both in terms of generating income and accruing an audience, said Davis.
“That being said, do we plan to diversify and hopefully partner with other platforms? Absolutely because this is not a hobby; this is a business,” Davis said, noting that YouTube was “the best option for us in launching a new company.”
Facebook is emerging as the next-best option for YouTube stars. The company has courted YouTube stars in the past to post videos to its platform, but its attempts have been hampered by a lack of evidence that these creators would be able to make as much money from Facebook as they are accustomed to making from YouTube. Seemingly as a result of low interest from YouTube stars, Facebook has focused on grooming its own stars, like Jay Shetty, who began posting videos to Facebook in 2017 and made more than $1 million from the platform in 2018.
The success that creators like Shetty have experienced on Facebook has begun to catch the attention of YouTube stars who are now taking a harder second look at the social network. “I did hear that the money over there is better when it comes to monetization,” said Dion.
Jaime Batres, a creator who has a YouTube channel with his mom that has 1.3 million subscribers, has heard the same and plans to post more videos to Facebook as a result. While Facebook and YouTube each offer to pay creators 55% of the ad revenue from their videos, the CPMs on Facebook are said to be around $4 per thousand impressions, compared to $2.60 on YouTube, according to Batres. “It feels like Facebook is doing that to get all the people from YouTube,” he said.
However, creators still have questions about the reliability of Facebook’s revenue, given the ups and downs that some Facebook creators have experienced. Those questions are not exclusive to Facebook, though. They apply to any ad-supported, algorithm-run platform, including and perhaps especially YouTube.
The shifting nature of these platforms is why YouTube stars want an alternative to YouTube. It’s not that they want to leave YouTube but that they don’t want to be limited to YouTube. They want to limit their exposure to any changes on YouTube that affect their livelihoods. They don’t want to be “a drone to the platforms,” said Takahashi.