YouTube’s branded content crackdown – what you need to know

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In this guest post, Nick Fawbert highlights what YouTube’s rules for branded content mean for advertisers and multi-channel networks in Asia.There was something of an inevitability about last week’s dismay over YouTube’s ‘clarification’ on the fees payable for branded content on YouTube’s channels. No commercially viable major platform is likely to offer free access to valuable audiences in perpetuity.

Red flags

We only need to review the last two years in social media to see that ‘Facebook Zero’ means that the multimillion strong fan bases we invested to create on Facebook Pages cannot now be reached on their timelines without additional investment in sponsored promotions.

The YouTube ‘clarification’ has clear parallels.

Both brands and independent creators have already invested in creating and retaining loyal audiences on their YouTube channels, but now YouTube’s rules expressly forbid the use of branded graphics or overt product endorsement without making payment for titles, overlays and a full YouTube media plan.

Red herrings

We are major investors in campaigns with both Facebook and YouTube. The contribution they make to our clients’ success is incomparable – but we’ve always known this is no free lunch.

So since this was inevitable, is it reasonable for us to criticise YouTube for shifting the goalposts, or is this simply a distraction from the core issue?

Perhaps we have allowed the apparently ‘free’ audiences from YouTube to disguise the fact that the real objective of content marketing is not simply the low cost distribution of great content, but the creation of brand owned customer communities where we can cost effectively engage, inspire, retain and transact with our committed fans.

Strategic imperatives

Regardless of whether Facebook or YouTube were at one point ‘free’, we can’t get away from the fact that investing marketing dollars to send consumers to Facebook Pages or YouTube Channels is in effect paying customers to leave our own stores and go to somebody else’s.

Our security and viability would then be either dependent on their good will, or whether their commercial interests dovetail with our own. Neither of these is comforting.

From a primary brand perspective, strategic success in content marketing relies on the creation of owned assets in terms of content and platforms that enable brands to own their audiences, own their data and provide a clear route to transaction.

Effective use of third-party platforms in content hub and spoke models involves leveraging third parties to drive customers to the hub, not leaving them on an endless and self-defeating pilgrimage around the social media periphery.

Collateral damage

Strategic success for brands in content marketing relies heavily on the existence of a thriving content marketing industry.

It’s impossible for a platform as large and influential as YouTube to make changes that either divert investment or restrict business practice without having a major impact on the entire value chain.

Large multi-channel networks

MCNs such as Machinima and Maker Studios are already struggling to create a viable business within the third-party distribution model. Any diversion in funds from content creation to carriage fees makes the task more challenging. They will need to invest in independent platforms to regain their security.

Medium-sized content marketing companies

Success for national and regional business relies on having a commercially viable way of delivering audiences to brands. These changes will have an immediate impact, and it seems likely that the best opportunity lies in creating and leveraging broadcasting and syndication partnerships that meet their specific regional commercial needs rather than the volatility of global markets.

Independent creators

Individual practitioners need to keep their options open. This is likely to require a rapid expansion of routes to market, ensuring that their content can be seen in a wide range of channels to insure themselves against the commercial decisions of any one supplier.

The future

Anything that impacts negatively on these three sectors is an implicit threat to major brands – it limits their ability to deliver effective content marketing campaigns.

While it has sent a shock through the ecosystems, it’s likely that clarifications of terms for suppliers like YouTube are simply growing pains.

Apparently free means of content distribution may have created unhealthy habits and created complacency in the industry.

These are all things we can address.

More importantly, the requirement for independent platforms is already addressed. Video platforms like ChannePLAY from Brand New Media and newcomer Vessel are designed to address these concerns and provide opportunity and a firm foundation for growth.

Nick Fawbert is the managing director of Brand New Media, Asia

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