YouTube’s stars gripe as Facebook shakes up digital video

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YouTube’s no. 1 performer, PewDiePie–born as Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg Fotografia de: Photo: PewDiePie

LOS ANGELES — For video performer PewDiePie and several of his colleagues, there’s something wrong with YouTube.

There have been a litany of complaints this year, most specifically that their views on the video network — which can range up to 75 million views for a one-minute post — are down. The suspicion: that YouTube owner Google has altered its algorithm in a way that doesn’t show as much love for the creator as before.

“If this continues, it’s going to kill a lot of channels,” said Pew DiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, recently in his “WTF is going on with YouTube?” video.

YouTube begs to differ. The company says nothing has changed. It looked into complaints from PewDiePie and other creators, and found nothing there.

We’ve done an extensive review and found there have been no decreases in creators’ subscriber numbers,” said YouTube spokeswoman Mariana De Felice

YouTube has given growth to a self-made category of video stars who make a healthy living cutting videos for the YouTube audience. YouTube rewards them by sharing a portion of the ad revenues, and opening up other possibilities by letting them sell their own sponsorships and product placements. Beyond PewDiePie, YouTube’s most popular performer with 50 million subscribers, other big names include Grace Helbig, Lilly Singh and comedians Rhett and Link.

They are in an alternate universe from the usual collection of movie and TV stars, but have fervent fan bases of mostly young viewers.

PewDiePie earned a cool $15 million in 2016 from his YouTube activities, according to Forbes. He’s the most high-profile performer to lodge complaints against YouTube; others include Philip DeFranco and Sammy Albon.

Algorithm suspicions aside, for these stars it’s clear that the video landscape totally changed in 2017.

YouTube is still strong and healthy, the No. 1 spot for videos with 1 billion users monthly and attracting more viewers than it did a year earlier, according to the company. (According to researcher Comscore Media Metrix, YouTube had 233.8 million visitors in the U.S. in November, up 4% from the previous November.)

Facebook says some 8 billion videos are viewed daily on the social network, although those networks need to be taken with a grain of salt. Non-live views are counted when seen in as little as 3 seconds, and many viewers see videos in their News Feed constantly, as autoplay videos with no sound.

With videos and now Facebook Live, the social network’s huge push to bring live event programming to Facebook users, the company gave YouTube “its first real competitive threat,” said Peter Csathy, chairman of Creatv Media, a San Diego-based advisory firm, and the author of the upcoming “Media 2.0” book.

Facebook, which hasn’t updated its daily video tally to include Live videos, has an algorithm that pushes video over plain text and photos in posts. Because of that, the social network is now “killing YouTube in views,” when it comes to engagement for Bryan Rason, a Canadian guitarist who regularly posts to both platforms. “Did that with my last upload and got 100% more views/interaction,” he said.

What Facebook is not doing is sharing ad revenue with video creators, like YouTube.

Facebook said this summer that it would begin sharing ad revenues with creators, but that didn’t happen in 2016. Facebook told USA TODAY this week that it’s currently testing ways to insert ad breaks in live videos and looking to add them to posted videos as well.

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It’s paying big celebrities and media brands to create live video for users, but that hasn’t expanded to most members of the YouTube creator community.

That Facebook didn’t come through with compensation for creators in 2016 “was frustrating,” says James McFadden, CEO of Collab, a Los Angeles-based digital talent network that works with creators to help them monetize their work.

“People put a lot of time and effort into building their fan base on Facebook and they tried to leverage them to YouTube.”

Despite the growth of video views on Facebook, views on YouTube for McFadden’s base of 1,000 clients are up 100% from last year, he says. “YouTube is still dominant in this space.”

Beyond Facebook, Twitter has opened up its platform to a handful of creators, but not the general public, to share in revenues. Some Collab clients “are starting to see significant amounts of money from Twitter,” he says, as well as Live.ly, the live-streaming app.

Snapchat and Instagram, the other two huge social networks, don’t share ad revenues with creators, but savvy photographers and hams have figured a way to sell sponsorships to their posts.

Garrick Tiplady, CEO of Vemba, which helps video creators monetize their work, says he’s looking at ways to expand creators’ audience to set-top boxes like Roku with ad-share programs in 2017.

Csathy notes that Facebook in 2016 “promised video creators better economics than YouTube,” which didn’t materialize. “But Facebook will unveil them in 2017. And when it does, it will be all-out war.”

YouTube’s star creators, who gather yearly for the fan-fest VidCon, are keeping up the pressure.

PewDiePie threatened to kill his channel when it reached 50 million subscribers, so pronounced was his beef with the network. Instead, when he hit the magic number, the threat turned out to be a hoax. He deleted instead a small sub channel, and just posted an unboxing video of a big gift from YouTube for reaching 50 million subscribers.

“I —- a lot on YouTube…but YouTube has given me everything,” he said, in the unboxing video.

All is forgiven. At least for now.

Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham, and listen to the daily #TalkingTech podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. 

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