A YouTube Creators' Bill of Rights (Or 'A Roadmap for Building a Better YouTube')

In my last piece I explained why I didn’t want to work on YouTube’s farm no more. As promised, in this piece I will follow up on one of the two parts I couldn’t get to in the first piece: 'How Twitter, Hulu, MSN, Yahoo and Facebook -- or a next-gen YouTube startup -- could each take on YouTube effectively.'

My explanation takes the form of a 'YouTube Creators' Bill of Rights,' which can be used as a roadmap for YouTube to build sustainable bridges with their current partners -- or as a roadmap for a competitor to crush YouTube. :-)

In other words, these are the five killer features that could kill YouTube.

If you built a service around these five features, and you had some level of traffic and sales support (think Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Facebook or my favorite Twitter), you could instantly take the top 500 channels out from under YouTube.

Bottom line: One product’s weakness is frequently another startup’s starting point.

Table of Contents:
0. That was interesting
1. We own our subscribers
2. A reasonable advertising split
3. Channel page design & functionality
4. Advertising disclosure
5. Comarketing dollars / promotion

Word Count: 1,712
Location: Inside.com HQ in Culver City

0. That was interesting
Since I published my piece, over 500 people have reached out to me sharing their stories, from folks who work at Maker and Machinima to those in traditional media or who own promising channels on YouTube.

The sentiment was the same across the board: YouTube is an amazing product and service, and we all love our friends at YouTube, but they are failing (some say hard) as a partner to content creators.

Additionally, the press picked up on the piece (links at the bottom) getting confirmation from many other partners that they were not very happy. People are starting to pile on, which is the surest sign that there was massive pent-up resentment of YouTube.

That resentment also shows people care.

And that’s what’s important for YouTube to realize: folks are upset because they care and because they expect more.

This is a great learning moment for YouTube. They can grow by listening to the partners and being flexible.
Or they can ignore their partners and watch them flee, like Freddie Wong did to Kickstarter and Xbox, Ray William Johnson did to Blip and Philip Defranco did to Discovery’s Revision3.

Everyone is leaving for greener pastures and better deals.

Instead of making this piece a roadmap for how a competitor can challenge YouTube’s supremacy in online video, I’ve phrased it as a ‘YouTube Creators' Bill of Rights.’

This is what YouTube must do to stop the exodus, or what a competitor could do to facilitate it.

YouTube’s biggest partners are looking at it ‘as a marketing platform,’ and that should put all YouTube staffers in a panic.

HBO’s directors, writers and actors don’t look at HBO as a marketing tool -- they look at it as the best *home* for their best work. Netflix is also becoming the best home for artists’ best work, and Amazon is not far behind them.

YouTube is becoming the best springboard to a better home.

1. We own our subscribers
When a consumer clicks to subscribe to iJustine or Freddie Wong, they are explicitly choosing to create a relationship with that creator -- not YouTube. As such, users should be given the immediate option to share their email address with the creator. This functionality exists in Facebook, and should exist in YouTube. This simple feature will allow creators to build significant, sustainable businesses.

2. A reasonable advertising split
YouTube should adopt the industry-standard 30% cut for advertising, similar to the Apple App Store, Google AdSense and Google Play store.

Any advertising brought to YouTube from a content creator should have a fee of 10% to YouTube. This evolution will allow YouTube creators to make a living wage, invest in sales teams and build sustainable programming.

3. Channel page design & functionality
Any changes to our channel design or functionality should be mutually agreed upon and changed only after a 60-day review period. We should be able to control at least 80% of the design of the channel pages, and select which videos and channels are linked from it.

There is a serious trust issue between creators and YouTube due to the constant changing of the platform, most changes of which are designed to favor YouTube over the creator. Change is good, but change that benefits the platform and not the creator is, well, less good. We’re looking for a win-win here, and the recognition that we’re investing millions into these channel pages.

4. Advertising disclosure
Any advertiser who spends more than $5k in a calendar month on a channel should be disclosed to the channel owner. If Coke or Pepsi spend $10k on iJustine, well, she deserves to know that fact, as well as the name of the agency that spent the money. This can easily be reported in the CMS and analytics with no cost to Google or YouTube.

This will help partners know which sponsors to build relationships with in the future.

5. Comarketing dollars / promotion
YouTube gets a massive amount of market from creators. We send out millions of followers into your domain name to experience not only our content but your brand. In recognition of us driving a massive amount of traffic into the ecosystem -- and maintaining that traffic by consistently publishing -- we ask for reasonable reciprocation.

For every 1m views or $1m in revenue a content creator generates in the YouTube ecosystem, we ask for a 20% back in-kind -- at the discretion of the creator.

If Freddie Wong’s latest video generates $1m in advertising revenue for YouTube, he would receive a $200k Google AdSense credit to be spent in the following year in the system for promotion (not for resale).

This reasonable reciprocation will allow content creators to reinvest in their channels and get to scale quickly. This program would only be open to those who hit the significant benchmarks of $1m in revenue a year or 1m views, and would continue for every additional 1m/$1m.

This promotion would be similar to the promotion that a new TV series gets on a network.

Since writing my piece I’ve had zero contact from YouTube, but I’ve had hundreds of replies including meetings and emails from every YouTube competitor, would-be-competitor and all the major YouTube channels.

The feedback has been universal: YouTube is letting the most talented creators leave the building, and they don’t have to.

Some folks asked me why I wrote the initial piece. What was I trying to accomplish. Let me explain my motivations (again):

First, I’m a writer. I’m compelled to write about the things I’m talking/thinking about. I’ve spent a year in the YouTube ecosystem, and I’ve watched from event to event as the energy and enthusiasm has dissipated. There are compelling stories going on right now around the ecosystem, and as a writer I like to share these stories. They’re interesting.

Second, as an executive I’m hoping to get inbound interest in my projects. Talking about why I’m giving up on YouTube creates massive interest in not only why, but where I’m going to put that energy. To find out, please sign up for the beta of www.inside.com. ;-)

Third, I’m hoping that the executives at YouTube -- and their competitors -- read what I’m writing and take it heart. We need a better ecosystem for content creators. I’m sick of Silicon Valley companies taking advantage of, and dismissing the needs of, content creators.

It’s time for someone like Google/YouTube -- not to mention Facebook -- to look deep and hard at the value of content and up their game. To share the wealth a little. Right now Netflix, Amazon, AOL and a couple of others (I can’t mention names) are investing heavily in sustainable partnerships with content creators.

Frankly, sometimes I feel like YouTube doesn’t care about creators (and I know Facebook doesn’t -- their share ratio is 100% to 0%, but that’s for another email). Just building a bunch of soundstages, throwing lavish parties and having us over for free organic lunches isn’t enough. We need to eat too, YouTube!

Fourth, and finally, I like talking about the hard issues. Sustainability of content is a very hard issue. We have started an important dialogue about one party putting a 45% tax on all video consumed.

Someone needed to bring it up, right?

all the best, @jason

Notable reactions from the last YouTube piece:

PS - I still admire and count my friends at YouTube as friends. I find it sad that after all this time working together they didn’t even reach out to me to say, ‘Hey, let’s discuss this over some organic, fair-trade, small-batch espresso and sous vide Niman Ranch beef.’

PPS - We’re looking for partners for our three hit YouTube shows: 'Wellcast' (508k minutes watched last week), 'XHIT' (1.4m minutes watched last week) and 'MMA Surge' (600k minutes watched last week). If you’re a brand that wants to partner on the show (e.g., Tapout, Nike, etc), ping me.

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