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YouTube networks drop thousands of creators as YouTube policy shifts

Multi-channel networks hit hard by ‘Know Your Customer’ policy


The future of multi-channel networks like Fullscreen, Ritual Network, BBTV and more are in question as thousands of creators are purged.

Multi-channel networks refer to companies that work with hundreds or thousands of YouTube creators under one umbrella. The network pays each creator a percentage of ad revenue (versus creators going through Google AdSense directly) and higher CPM (cost per views). Multi-channel networks have always been contentious. With tens of thousands of creators working under one umbrella, creators can feel like they’re not getting the attention they deserve.

Still, MCNs attract creators who didn’t want to go through YouTube’s laborious AdSense application process, but multiple sources tell Polygon it’s unlikely some MCNs will continue to operate within a year.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when creators working with Fullscreen began tweeting about being dropped from the network, seemingly without cause. According to an email seen by Polygon, Fullscreen told one of its former creators they were being dropped over “a decision that comes from YouTube and is out of our control.” A Fullscreen representative later told Polygon the original message “was inaccurate, and we’ve since revised our emails to creators accordingly.” Fullscreen terminated contracts for “approximately 160 creators” on April 5, according to the rep.

Fullscreen’s representative told Polygon the revised email sent to creators whose contracts have been terminated now reads:

The team here at Fullscreen is reaching out to let you know that your agreement with Fullscreen, Inc. has been terminated. Due to the nature of your uploads and because your uploads may potentially infringe on the right of others or potentially violates applicable laws or regulations, including without limitation YouTube’s Terms of Service and/or YouTube’s Community Guidelines, we feel it best that we part ways. Thank you for your understanding, and good luck with your YouTube channel.

Still, apparent messages from Howard Pinsky, director of creator marketing at Fullscreen, sent on a public Fullscreen Discord provided conflicting reports.

“YouTube is ‘forcing’ all networks to remove creators that are at risk of violating terms of service (copyright issues, misleading thumbnails, etc),” Pinsky said, according to a screenshot of that message. “This isn’t a decision from the networks, but one from YouTube. They’re really starting to clean up the platform. Fullscreen (and other networks) have zero say in this. This is a decision from YouTube. From what they explained to us, ‘many channels that posed a risk of violating YouTube’s terms of service, even if no strikes were present, were released.’”

Pinsky declined to comment when reached out by Polygon to verify the messages.

The decision Pinsky referred to is something called the “Know Your Customer” policy, according to Jason Urgo, CEO of Social Blade, a statistics company that works with multiple MCNs. Urgo told Polygon via email that “YouTube is putting more pressure on MCNs,” pointing to the new policy, which went into effect on March 1, as an example.

The “Know Your Customer” policy puts MCNs in a tricky position, according to Urgo, who said that it pushes companies to drop a large number of creators in order to continue working with YouTube.

“[It] in effect forces MCNs to either watch every video uploaded by their partners, or at least be reasonably confident none of the videos they are uploading could possibly either in the present or in the future violate or even come close to violating a YouTube guideline/terms,” Urgo said. “The way this is enforced is that if a network has more then 50 ‘abuse events’ (an abuse event is when a channel gets terminated or loses their monetization privileges) in a 90 day period they lose the ability to partner any other channel for a period of time.

“If this 50 in 90 rule is triggered multiple times, the MCN can be revoked.”

That means creators are being dropped because of the potential threat they face to YouTube and the MCN, but these reasons weren’t given to creators.

“Due to YouTube’s changes to its partnership program and implementation of stricter content guidelines, we’re required to restructure our network to ensure conformity,” one leaked email sent to a former Fullscreen partner reads. “Your channel will be removed from the network on 4/11, and I am truly sorry we’re not able to keep you with us — believe me I did try!”

Another former Fullscreen creator affected, Justin Rabbit, told Polygon he also wasn’t originally given a proper reason by Fullscreen why the network dropped him. Rabbit said he’s never received a strike on his channel from YouTube.

“Whenever I asked anyone I either got no reply or was told a generic response,” Rabbit told Polygon via email. “When I tried to ask further what I did, I just kept getting the same answer. My channel has never had a strike or any problem with it since I started it. I obey every rule YouTube puts out.”

The new internal policy means that “networks now have to either drop [everyone] but their top partners or bring more people on to manually review all content, which just isn’t economical in most cases,” according to Urgo. This is especially troubling for smaller creators, who faced another major obstacle ahead of the “Know Your Customer” policy. YouTube introduced a new threshold for creators, asking for a minimum of 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of accrued watch time in the past 12 months. This was a radical shift from the previous threshold, which asked for 10,000 channel lifetime views.

SocialBlade has worked with thousands of creators over the years, and multiple MCNs like Disney’s Maker Studios and BBTV, one of the largest MCNs working today, to help creators get partnered. This allowed them to bypass the traditional process of going through AdSense to try and monetize their own videos. YouTube’s policy now means that MCNs like BBTV are increasing their own threshold for clients. Creators must now meet 100,000 views per month to be eligible as a BBTV client.

“The 100,000 views [per month] is a threshold set by BBTV to limit the number of channels who qualify, because YouTube’s new rule in effect turns partners into liabilities and rather then being able to help a large number of smaller partners, they have to focus only on the top, safer ones,” Urgo said. “From a business sense this makes total sense in risk avoidance, but it’s really sad because we’ve always been for the community helping the little guy get a chance to make it.”

This isn’t the first time that a multi-channel network has restructured its creator program to appease YouTube’s new guidelines. Maker Studios dropped support for more than 55,000 YouTubers following controversy over Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg last February, according to the Wall Street Journal, although the decision was reportedly in the works before then. Maker Studios limited the number of creators it was working with to approximately 300, with those channels sharing the same core values Disney believes in.

Now, multi-channel networks are going through a similar purge. One manager at a popular MCN, who asked to remain anonymous, said thousands of creators are being dropped from almost every major MCN, including their own, noting that thousands of creators have been dropped.

“YouTube are making it impossible,” the person said. “YouTube are trying to get rid of MCNs to the point where we can no longer operate. I don’t see any MCNs operating within the next six months. It feels like YouTube is trying to make us go bankrupt. We’re at the stage where it’s like the end of an era.”

Thousands of creators are being dropped from MCNs, according to the source, as MCNs become stricter talent managers. Similar to what happened with Maker Studios’ post-PewDiePie, where more than 50,000 creators were dropped, the same thing seems to be happening to all MCNs now. Instead of MCNs being an entry-level partnership for up-and-coming creators, companies will work with a few hundred people already popular. Maker Studios for example, represents jackscepticeye and Markiplier, two of the biggest names in YouTube gaming.

“At this point MCNs just need to disband before we’re forced to,” the MCN manager said. “If they just blatantly saying that YouTube is telling MCNs to unlink channels, it gives YouTube a bad name. MCNs need YouTube. It’s an insane time to be at an MCN right now, and it’s insane to think of what happens next. We haven’t got much left in the MCN era.”

Polygon has reached out to YouTube for comment.

Update: A senior manager at Ritual Network, who asked to remain anonymous, told Polygon the network doesn’t view the internal changes as a negative impact on its own creators.

“Our business model has always revolved around working with the very best talent & the new policy does not affect this,” they said. “The new policy is set out by YouTube to help protect the community and advertisers and will help stop all of the bad actors in the community ... I could understand how this could affect some companies in this space as they work with tens of thousands of YouTube content creators [and] it will always be hard to monitor content at that scale.”

They would not comment on whether Ritual Network did raise the threshold to 100,000 views a month, like BBTV, but did offer this statement.

“Our requirements vary depending on different factors including content quality, views, subscribers, potential etc,” they said. “I am under the impression that a lot of other companies in this space have had to release a lot of channels. However, we have released less than five channels due to this new policy.”

Update 2: A Fullscreen representative reached out to Polygon to confirm creator marketing director Howard Pinsky’s Discord messages. The representative added that “it was a conversation that took place prematurely with creators and Howard has since corrected himself.

“Across the board, Fullscreen has corrected all outbound messaging to more accurately reflect the reason for channel releases from our network as reflected in the official statement given to [Polygon] on Friday,” the representative said.

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