YouTube's scrapped plan to change how it pays creators focused on 3 main metrics: attract, engage, and retain (GOOG, GOOGL)

Susan Wojcicki

  • In 2017, YouTube
    considered changing a major facet of its business model— paying
    creators based on viewer engagement, rather than the ad revenue
    they created, according to a
    Bloomberg
    earlier this month.
  • Business Insider obtained unreleased YouTube support center
    drafts that provide more detail about the proposed payments model
    from 2017, showing that changes would have involved more than just
    engagement metrics.
  • According to the documents, YouTube was planning to introduce
    three new pillars to its payments model for creators: “attract,
    engage, and retain.”
  • A YouTube spokesperson told Business Insider that its
    “leadership decided not to move forward with this particular
    project as we got feedback the new metrics could be hard for
    creators to understand and directly impact.” 
  • Bloomberg reported that Google’s chief exec also feared that
    the new model would increase the site’s problems with “filter
    bubbles,” — or, continuing to serve people content that appeals
    to their preexisting beliefs.
  • Visit
    BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

In 2017, YouTube considered changing its business model
completely — paying video “creators” based on viewer engagement,
rather than on the ad revenue that their videos generated. The
proposed changes were first reported by
Bloomberg
earlier this month.

The plan — known internally as “Project Bean” or, sometimes,
“Boil The Ocean” — was worked on for at least a year by YouTube
engineers and pitched at a leadership meeting by CEO Susan
Wojcicki, Bloomberg reported. It was ultimately vetoed by
Wojcicki’s boss, Google CEO
Sundar Pichai, who feared
that the new system could cause unintended problems.

Read more:
Google’s CEO once shut down an experimental project that would have
totally changed how YouTube creators get paid, report says

Recently, Business Insider obtained unreleased YouTube support
center drafts that provide more detail about the proposed payments
model from 2017, showing that changes would have involved more than
just engagement metrics — or, how many viewers watch a video and
for how long. 

In the documents, YouTube said that rather than paying creators
based solely on the advertising dollars their videos were able to
generate, it would start taking other factors into consideration
including “how well content brings viewers to YouTube, keeps them
engaged, and helps turn them into loyal fans.”  Until now, the
only payment model changes reported were around engagement. 

According to the documents, YouTube was planning to introduce
three new pillars to its payments model for creators: “attract,
engage, and retain.”

The details of the plan provide a snapshot of YouTube’s
struggles to rid its platform of problematic content without
impairing the pipeline of “must-watch” videos that its business
depends on. And it underscores the grave risks of perverse
incentives and unintended consequences that have frustrated YouTube
executive’s efforts to tackle the problem.

Here’s a synopsis of the plan YouTube was developing at
the time, as laid out in the internal draft:

I. Attract: Creators to be rewarded if viewers
were searching for their videos online and as a result, came to
YouTube to watch them. 

What to consider: Are viewers coming
to YouTube specifically to watch your content?

Tips: Try to make it easier for a viewers
searching for your content by using effective titles and writing
smart descriptions.

II. Engage: Creators to be rewarded for
creating engaging and relevant content for its viewers. 

What to consider: Are your videos so engaging
and relevant to viewers such that they would continue to watch more
of your content?

Tips: If a viewer is already watching some of
your content, try to understand what keeps them engaged, as well as
making it easier for them to watch more with playlists and sections
that encourage viewers to stick around.

III. Retain: Creators to be rewarded for
building a large audience and having that audience routinely come
back to watch their videos. 

What to consider: Are you building a large and
loyal subscriber base? 

Tips: Having a consistent schedule for
uploading videos, as well as interacting with your audience may
help encourage viewers to become loyal fans.

The three pillars explained

The “attract” category considered the intent of users coming to
YouTube. If viewers were being drawn to the site specifically to
watch a creator’s videos (for instance, if they had searched for a
certain video, which led them to YouTube), that would help boost a
creator’s performance within the new model and ultimately, increase
their pay. 

The second category — “engage” — considered not only watch
time of a video, which had been previously reported, but also a
creator’s ability to keep a viewer’s attention and have them watch
multiple videos, back-to-back. The document describes this
behavior, of keeping viewers on a given page, as a creator serving
videos that are “relevant.” 

This emphasis on relevance sheds more light on why Pichai was
apparently wary of Wojcicki’s plan.

As Bloomberg reported, Google’s chief exec feared that the new
model proposed would increase the site’s problems with “filter
bubbles,” — or, continuing to serve people content that appeals
to their preexisting beliefs.

According to a person familiar with the plan cited by Bloomberg,
should the plan have gone into effect, it was likely that Alex
Jones — the creator of Infowars and a conspiracy theorist himself
— would have become one of YouTube’s highest-paid creators. 

The final category, “retain,” rewarded creators for building a
large audience and being able to keep those viewers coming
back. 

According to the documents, YouTube’s revenue share would remain
the same. The changes, it said, would only alter payment
distribution amongst creators. 

Susan Wojcicki Sundar Pichai

The plan — also known internally as “BTO3,” shorthand for
“Boil The Ocean 3” — would have been the third massive overhaul
at YouTube, following previous efforts to bring on mobile users and
increase subscriptions. 

The new system would have worked by pooling cash from the
advertising business, then doling it out to creators based on some
combination of how well creators were attracting, engaging, and
retaining viewers. The documents obtained by Business Insider also
suggested that creators would still be paid, in part, by the
advertising revenues from their videos. 

A YouTube spokesperson did not confirm the content of the
documents obtained, but told Business Insider on Monday that the
main reason it canceled the project was because “the new metrics
could be hard for creators to understand and directly impact.”

“We’re always looking for new ways to reward creators who make
the platform great. Every year, we discuss dozens of potential
tools to help creators monetize. Some of them turn into products
like Merch, Channel Memberships, and Ticketing. Many others never
see the light of day. YouTube leadership decided not to move
forward with this particular project as we got feedback the new
metrics could be hard for creators to understand and directly
impact,” the spokesperson said. 

The new model could have made things worse

According to Bloomberg, the proposed shift was management’s
response to creators disgruntled by the company’s ad-based model.
This new system was meant to help those who make videos that
mainstream advertisers shy away from for being too risqué, like
sex education or music videos. 

The new payments model, however, could have created another
problem for the video platform. According to Bloomberg’s report,
company execs at the time were ignoring employee warnings that some
of the most popular content on its site was toxic. A business model
centered on factors like engagement could have worsened YouTube’s
problem of what some employees cited by Bloomberg called “bad
virality,” as toxic content attracted many hours of viewing.

Do you work at Google or Youtube? Got a tip?
Contact this reporter via Signal or WhatsApp at +1 (209) 730-3387
using a non-work phone, email at nbastone@businessinsider.com,
Telegram at nickbastone, or Twitter DM at @nickbastone.

SEE ALSO: As
Bloomberg reported, Google’s chief exec feared that the new model
proposed would increase the site’s problems with “filter bubbles,”
— or, continuing to serve people content that appeals to their
preexisting beliefs.


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YouTube's scrapped plan to change how it pays creators focused on 3 main metrics: attract, engage, and retain (GOOG, GOOGL)