The SEC late last year prodded the company to explain why it doesn’t share YouTube data, according to regulatory filings in February. Accounting rules require companies to disclose revenue for operating segments that account for 10% of a company’s total revenue, profit or combined assets. YouTube’s numbers are included in Alphabet’s advertising figure.
In any case, if you have incontrovertible evidence that YouTube is actually unprofitable today, and why that is (i.e. is it because they’re just investing all that profit back into growth, or are their upkeep costs truly just on the order of multiple billions of dollars?), would love to see it and adjust this accordingly. Doesn’t really change any of the points made though.
In a widely circulated essay last year, the artist James Bridle highlighted the many violent, odd, and nearly robotic children’s videos sitting in the vaults of YouTube. They didn’t seem made by human hands, he wrote, or at least not completely. Some were sadistic or sick. (After Bridle’s essay was published, YouTube undertook an effort to purge the site of “content that attempts to pass as family-friendly, but clearly is not,” and ultimately removed some of the disturbing videos the essay cited.) Others seemed like grab bags of keywords that had been successful for more professional operations: nursery rhymes, surprise eggs, finger family, learning colors. These were videos reverse engineered from whatever someone might enter into the YouTube search box. And though none of these videos has achieved the scale of ChuChu’s work, they definitely get seen, and are occasionally recommended to a child who has been happily watching something more virtuous.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is almost precisely the problem that the rest of the media world finds itself in. Because quality is hard to measure, the numbers that exist are the ones that describe attention, not effect: views, watch time, completion rate, subscribers. YouTube uses those metrics, ostensibly objectively, when it recommends videos. But as Theodore Porter, the great historian of science and technology, put it in his book Trust in Numbers, “Quantification is a way of making decisions without seeming to decide.”
Observing that face-to-face communication of the type that online videos convey has been "fine-tuned by millions of years of evolution", TED curator Chris Anderson referred to several YouTube contributors and asserted that "what Gutenberg did for writing, online video can now do for face-to-face communication". Anderson asserted that it's not far-fetched to say that online video will dramatically accelerate scientific advance, and that video contributors may be about to launch "the biggest learning cycle in human history." In education, for example, the Khan Academy grew from YouTube video tutoring sessions for founder Salman Khan's cousin into what Forbes' Michael Noer called "the largest school in the world", with technology poised to disrupt how people learn. YouTube was awarded a 2008 George Foster Peabody Award, the website being described as a Speakers' Corner that "both embodies and promotes democracy." The Washington Post reported that a disproportionate share of YouTube's most subscribed channels feature minorities, contrasting with mainstream television in which the stars are largely white. A Pew Research Center study reported the development of "visual journalism", in which citizen eyewitnesses and established news organizations share in content creation. The study also concluded that YouTube was becoming an important platform by which people acquire news.
But from where I’m sitting, these videos are a lot like the TV show Jackass – which was on MTV between 2000 and 2002. The show featured self-injuring stunts including inserting a toy car into one cast member’s anus, snorting wasabi, and tattooing in a moving off-road vehicle. The show was broadcast before 10pm, prior to a campaign led by US Senator Joe Lieberman to remove it.
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.
Consider start-up costs. Your start-up costs largely depend on the type of content you're putting out. For "Pittsburgh Dad," the cost to launch the show was virtually nothing, Preksta says. The first episode required just three supplies: Preksta's iPhone, a polo shirt from Goodwill and a pair of glasses. The show hasn't required much of an investment in technology since, "At the end of the day, it's me, Curt and a couple of lights," Preksta says.