The Confessional #14: YouTube Exec

My latest interviewee for The Confessional is a former YouTube executive. This was a great interview that provides a lot of insight into the inner workings and attitudes of YouTube.

 We covered a number of topics including:

  • How Youtube’s relationship with creators has evolved
  • The massive growth of the YouTube partner program
  • YouTube’s relationship with MCN’s

The Confessional is a series of anonymous interview with influencers, brands, marketers, agencies and MCN executives to get honest, no-bullshit opinions on working in the space – the biggest gripes, the toughest lessons, the most valuable advice.

The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.


A lot of people are confused about how hands-on YouTube does and does not want to be with creators. How hands on are they?

There were three critical moments in YouTube’s approach to creator relationships. Pre-2010, there weren’t too many interactions with creators.

2012 was a pivotal time. It’s when brands started to seriously invest into digital media, MCNs started to gain legitimacy, and YouTube made a million different bets and hundreds of millions of dollars. It was like, “We want to enable these YouTube-enabled businesses, we are fine with people intermediating.”

2014 and 2015 was the most material shift, where YouTube was like: “Holy shit, we are losing the thing that made us special and we will put humans as well as dollars behind getting that relationship back.”

So that’s where they are now. YouTube is on the defensive because a) they’re saying that because of MCNs, agents and managers have been further intermediated, and b) they’re nervous because of competing platforms like Facebook Video.

Going to the MCNs, what sparked you guys jumping in to address the affiliate and the managed?

The origin of direct and manage came from naturally the evolution of the MCNs.

MCNs were born out of feature arbitration. The partner program was important at the time because not only could you monetize, but you would also agree on certain features like custom thumbnails and custom banners. In the early days if you weren’t one of the YouTubers hand selected by YouTube to be a part of the partner program then you had to join MCNs to get these things.

This is the house that divided YouTube, where half of us were pro-creator. The other half was like: “No, we actually need to enable these MCNs to continue to thrive.” But if you look at the numbers it wouldn’t have mattered. Maker Studios would love to believe that they hold 10 percent of traffic for YouTube globally. They don’t, it’s less than two percent. If they left, they wouldn’t do shit.

Was there pressure within YouTube to kind of prop up the MCNs to a certain extent?

In a way. We got rid of their ability to feature arbitrage and were forced to create real value-added services. This is when you start to see them invest in real sales team, production houses and so forth. It’s because we forced their hand. Because we took their dependency on shit they should have never depended on.

Do you think they’ve done enough to provide value to creators?

It depends. For the larger ones that are highly scaled, do they provide the value they should? No. They never have. Talk to any creator and you will get that response.

My thoughts on MCNs are generally negative. It’s a questionable value they provide across the board, certainly on ongoing basis. In my opinion, all of them were saved by the big media companies who needed a digital play and just don’t understand shit. But, am I happy, in hindsight, that they did exist in some fashion and that we are validated…yeah. It was worth it. But do I think they are useful, in reality? No.

Could you talk at all about the growth of the partner program?

Initially the partner program was small – an ever growing group of hand selected creators. In 2011, we took it from 33 thousand people to 4 million. Now, when you fast forward to today, the partner program doesn’t really exist. And that’s by design. We made a super-conscious decision to move away from the notion of partner because it was brand inconsistent with YouTube, and we didn’t philosophically like the idea of a non-democratic platform.

We wanted to enable anyone to turn creativity into a career. And what that practically meant is anyone can use certain features and programs, anyone can have a deep relationship with YouTube, depending on performance. It wasn’t demarcated by the relationship you have with your MCN or otherwise.

We did this to scale monetization and as a result brought in 50 percent more revenue. Even though most of the channels we enabled monetization for were tiny, it mattered because of how big the platform is.

When YouTube opened up the partner program to the masses did CPM’s lower?

The CPM’s did start lowering. However, around that time another factor came into the picture that had a way bigger impact on the creator’s bottom lines.

In 2012 we launched Watch Time as guiding algorithm of YouTube. As a result, a lot of people who did click-baity stuff suffered. I remember overnight a lot of channels lost 50% of their viewership.

What was the impact of the Partner Program to YouTube’s bottom line?

By opening up monetization to more and more people YouTube has generated billions in revenue. In 2011, after we began scaling the partner program, we grew revenue 50%. This was in spite of the fact that most of the channels we enabled monetization for were tiny. That’s how big the platform was (and is today).

The addition of monetization of more of the long-tail helped us generate $400 million dollars, which that year, in 2011, was a third of all of YouTube’s revenue.

Why YouTube’s Hero, Hub, Help Content Strategy works

Most brands are terrible at developing a community on YouTube.

There isn’t a single brand amongst the top 100 most subscribed channels on YouTube today.

So how can brands develop a community and generate earned media? The solution is to apply the hero, hub, help content strategy, which, YouTube popularized via their brand playbook. I’ve also written extensively about hero, hub, help and recommend you read through those articles here, here, here, and here if this is something you want to explore further.

However, one thing that I haven’t spent too much time explaining – is WHY the hero, hup, help content strategy works so well on YouTube. In this post, I break down those reasons.


Forbes Profile

Amazon’s Rumored YouTube Competitor

I think the future of digital is video.

What Amazon’s role in the space is coming under increased scrutiny and speculation.

Is Amazon developing a YouTube competitor?

Every social media site on the planet has shifted its focus to video. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Tumblr have introduced or expanded their video capabilities, and are prioritizing live video in their algorithms. Even LinkedIn recently announced new video features.


Automated Influencer Platforms Are Selling Out The Industry

If a little is good, a lot must be great.

Or so the thinking generally goes. However, when it comes to influencer marketing, there can be too much of a good thing.

Over the past year, there’s been a wave of companies extolling the virtues of

While it’s terribly convenient for all parties involved, these companies operate on a flawed premise that you can automate relationships, creative, and credibility. I’d argue that automated platforms are quickly eroding credibility – and as a result, effectiveness – within the influencer marketing space.

Why is this?


YouTube Documentary

This past Vidcon I was fortunate enough to be featured in a documentary on YouTube that was made by VPRO (basically the Dutch 60 Minutes). Check it out.

Thoughts on Facebook Watch

With the launch of Watch, Facebook is tackling YouTube head on.

The social network behemoth has been chipping away at YouTube for the past couple years. Zuckerberg has not held back in sharing his goal to own the social video space – recently stating that Facebook will be mostly video in 5 years.


Vidcon US (Talk) – Hero, Hub, Help: Content Strategy for Brands

I attended the latest Vidcon this past July (if you’re interested in reading my key takeaways on the matter you can read my Mashable post here).

I was fortunate enough to do a panel on influencer marketing with Zach King, as well as give a seminar on one of my favorite topics – the Hero, Hub, Help content strategy. Below is a video of the Hero, Hub, Help talk (thanks so much to Franklin Graves for filming!).

In it I discuss the basics of the hero, hub, help content strategy (which you can read about in previous posts of mine – here, here, and here) as well as why it works and how it can be applied to social platforms beyond just YouTube.


The Confessional #13: MCN Exec/Co-Founder

My latest interviewee for The Confessional co-founded an MCN, former talent manager, and is currently a director for a major, traditional, media network.

We covered a number of topics including:
– YouTube’s $100 million channel initiative breathed life into MCN’s
– MCN’s making money off clueless talent
– That MCN’s exploited talent early on and have to evolve


The Confessional #12: C-Suite MCN Exec

My latest interviewee for The Confessional is a C-Suite executive at a major MCN. He’s been in the space for quite a while now, and was an early employee at one of the major MCN’s in before climbing the ranks.

We covered a number of topics including:
– The early days of YouTube MCN’s and signing creators
– How the relationship with MCN’s and creators has evolved
– How Hollywood’s influence is killing creativity on YouTube
– How money and success can negatively impact on creators