Of course, YouTube is funded by advertisers. So it makes sense to pay attention to their wants and desires. But under the current model, brands’ reactions are often a placeholder for third party regulation. And at the moment – as content creators are sketching the line for appropriate content – it is often advertisers who have the final say about acceptability.
This indirect, dog-whistle form of alt-right messaging is common for the channel, which deliberately uses pop culture imagery, mainly drawn from animated series like Death Note and in particular the Cartoon Network TV series Steven Universe, as a tool for spreading white supremacist propaganda. Some of the many examples littering the channel’s videos include frequent references to media creators and other public figures using the historically loaded slur “Jews,” and references to anti-Semitic conspiracy phraseology such as “the Jewish question,” a frequent alt-right dog whistle that refers to the “Endlösung der Judenfrage” — German for “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” and the official Nazi code language for planning and carrying out the Holocaust.
That kind of growth suggests that something unpredictable and wild is happening: America’s grip on children’s entertainment is coming to an end. ChuChu is but the largest of a new constellation of children’s-media brands on YouTube that is spread out across the world: Little Baby Bum in London, Animaccord Studios in Moscow, Videogyan in Bangalore, Billion Surprise Toys in Dubai, TuTiTu TV in Tel Aviv, and LooLoo Kids in Iași, a Romanian town near the country’s border with Moldova. The new children’s media look nothing like what we adults would have expected. They are exuberant, cheap, weird, and multicultural. YouTube’s content for young kids—what I think of as Toddler YouTube—is a mishmash, a bricolage, a trash fire, an explosion of creativity. It’s a largely unregulated, data-driven grab for toddlers’ attention, and, as we’ve seen with the rest of social media, its ramifications may be deeper and wider than you’d initially think.
And while PewDiePie only follows a few hundred people on Twitter, many of them are alt-right-identified figures — including Peterson, the prominent Gamergate writer Ian Miles Cheong, Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson, the alt-right YouTube philosopher Stefan Molyneux, the alt-right Canadian blogger Lauren Southern, the recently “redpilled” YouTube personality Laci Green, and leading figures of YouTube’s reactionary right-wing community, like Dave Rubin and Ben Shapiro. PewDiePie also followed notorious alt-right YouTuber Sargon of Akkad until the latter’s suspension from Twitter last year. (Kjellberg has not responded to a request from Vox for comment.)
But whereas Disney has long mined cultures around the world for legends and myths—dropping them into consumerist, family-friendly American formats—ChuChu’s videos are a different kind of hybrid: The company ingests Anglo-American nursery rhymes and holidays, and produces new versions with subcontinental flair. The characters’ most prominent animal friend is a unicorn-elephant. Nursery rhymes become music videos, complete with Indian dances and iconography. Kids of all skin tones and hair types speak with an Indian accent.
In December 2011, YouTube launched a new version of the site interface, with the video channels displayed in a central column on the home page, similar to the news feeds of social networking sites. At the same time, a new version of the YouTube logo was introduced with a darker shade of red, the first change in design since October 2006. In May 2013, YouTube launched a pilot program for content providers to offer premium, subscription-based channels within the platform. In February 2014, Susan Wojcicki was appointed CEO of YouTube. In November 2014, YouTube announced a subscription service known as "Music Key", which bundled ad-free streaming of music content on YouTube with the existing Google Play Music service.
For example if your YouTube Channel happens to provide valuable video content for a very specific audience. Say the channel teaches business owner how to organize their finances, track their expenses and save money on taxes. Any company who is trying to reach business owners would love to place their ads on that channel because you would both share the same demographic. The people who view that channel are their potential customers.
“The largest fucking YouTuber on the planet made a video that got 7 million views in 7 hours,” Hasan Piker, a commentator for the left-wing web series The Young Turks, said on his own YouTube channel. “That seems like a fucking big problem, especially if the majority of his viewers are 14-year-old kids who are going to go over to this fucking channel and start watching this guy’s cartoon videos. ... [E;R] has an interest in red-pilling people and turning them over to Naziism or to Fascist ideology. How do you think this will play out when PewDiePie hypes this guy’s fucking channel?”
Having outside income streams is especially important. After all, a change to how YouTube partners with and compensates creators could drastically shake up a YouTuber's ability to earn money with little warning. This happened in January, when the YouTube Partner Program boosted the eligibility requirements for monetization from 10,000 lifetime views to 4,000 hours of watch time within the previous year and 1,000 subscribers, leaving some content creators scrambling to reclaim their ability to earn money.
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In June 2007, YouTube began trials of a system for automatic detection of uploaded videos that infringe copyright. Google CEO Eric Schmidt regarded this system as necessary for resolving lawsuits such as the one from Viacom, which alleged that YouTube profited from content that it did not have the right to distribute. The system, which was initially called "Video Identification" and later became known as Content ID, creates an ID File for copyrighted audio and video material, and stores it in a database. When a video is uploaded, it is checked against the database, and flags the video as a copyright violation if a match is found. When this occurs, the content owner has the choice of blocking the video to make it unviewable, tracking the viewing statistics of the video, or adding advertisements to the video. By 2010, YouTube had "already invested tens of millions of dollars in this technology". In 2011, YouTube described Content ID as "very accurate in finding uploads that look similar to reference files that are of sufficient length and quality to generate an effective ID File". By 2012, Content ID accounted for over a third of the monetized views on YouTube.
YouTube Play Buttons, a part of the YouTube Creator Rewards, are a recognition by YouTube of its most popular channels. The trophies made of nickel plated copper-nickel alloy, golden plated brass, silver plated metal and ruby are given to channels with at least one hundred thousand, a million, ten million and fifty million subscribers, respectively.
The good news is that income is rising, but efforts to generate a broad and loyal audience that turn to the service on a regular basis for original content appear to have hit a wall. The Journal points out how three years ago YouTube spent hundreds of millions of dollars on original content to build new channels, only to see many of them fail. Getting people to visit the site directly and regularly because there’s something specific they want to see, rather than dropping by occasionally via a link on another site or online service, appears to be a big challenge for the company.
In March 2017, the government of the United Kingdom pulled its advertising campaigns from YouTube, after reports that its ads had appeared on videos containing extremism content. The government demanded assurances that its advertising would "be delivered in a safe and appropriate way". The Guardian newspaper, as well as other major British and U.S. brands, similarly suspended their advertising on YouTube in response to their advertising appearing near offensive content. Google stated that it had "begun an extensive review of our advertising policies and have made a public commitment to put in place changes that give brands more control over where their ads appear". In early April 2017, the YouTube channel h3h3Productions presented evidence claiming that a Wall Street Journal article had fabricated screenshots showing major brand advertising on an offensive video containing Johnny Rebel music overlaid on a Chief Keef music video, citing that the video itself had not earned any ad revenue for the uploader. The video was retracted after it was found that the ads had actually been triggered by the use of copyrighted content in the video.
ChuChu’s headquarters take up the entire first floor of a blue-glass building with bright-yellow stripes. Rows of animators flank a center aisle that houses big, colorful flourishes—weird chairs, structural columns with graffiti on them—signifying “fun tech office!” The work floor is ringed by maybe 10 offices that house the higher-ups. ChuChu says it employs about 200 people.
Fifty years ago, the most influential children’s-television studio of the 20th century, Children’s Television Workshop, came into being, thanks to funding from the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the United States government. It created an unprecedented thing—Sesame Street—with help from a bevy of education experts and Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets. The cast was integrated. The setting was urban. The show was ultimately broadcast on public television across America, defining a multicultural ideal at a time of racial strife. It was the preschool-media embodiment of the War on Poverty, a national government solution to the problems of America’s cities.
YouTube has focused on developing online personalities such as video game player PewDiePie, music video specialist Smosh and style guru Michelle Phan. Driving much of the traffic to YouTube, analysts say, are multichannel networks such as Fullscreen, Maker Studios, SonyBMG and Whistle Sports. Google has bought stakes in multichannel networks such as Vevo and Machinima, analysts say, to ensure their content stays on its website.