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Illini basketball

YouTube lied

YouTube told partners that monetization would return if they could persuade 1,000 people to share their personal data with Google. YouTube lied.

[NOTE: This column was written mostly in September 2018. Today’s news of Google’s secret surveillance encouraged me to finish it.]

Thanks, IlliniReport readers, for your patience.

Unfortunately, it has not been rewarded. The Don’t Be Evil Empire reneged on its promise to return YouTube’s qualifying channels to partnership status. YouTube revenue is an important pillar in keeping IlliniReport the only non-subscription medium for pre-game interviews, post-game press conferences, etc.

You’ll recall the announcement in January 2018. Channels with fewer than 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours per year would be eliminated from YouTube partnership. That seemed surmountable.

IlliniReport had about 25,000 watch hours in the previous year. Doubling the number of subscribers was the task. But it didn’t seem daunting. A typical upload yields 1,500 views. Many get 3,000. A few get 15,000.

While most of those views came from social media, message boards, and content aggregators; motivating 500 people to click a “subscribe” button, at no cost, posed no concern.

So I did.


After a brief campaign, you put IlliniReport over that threshold.

YouTube sent me a cheery GIF to celebrate the achievement.

Why does YouTube care where its hits originate? They still get the clicks don’t they?

It’s because in order to subscribe, you have to be a member. To be a member, you have to share your personal data with YouTube. And then they can track you, sell your information to Cambridge Analytica, and target you with ads based on your viewing history & search terms. (I’m getting PragerU ads while watching MSNBC’s channel, so clearly their algorithm stinks.)

But it’s their rules. They offered, and I accepted. (Or, you might suggest, they unilaterally offered, and we performed.) Under their terms, IlliniReport should have been returned to partnership status automatically.

But YouTube lied.

On the deadline day, YouTube announced that it would need more time to “review” partner channels.  They wanted to make sure we weren’t Alex Jones, Logan Paul or al Qaeda.

Keep working for us, but for free.

News outlets reported that Google would hire TEN THOUSAND people to review YouTube channels.

At first, YouTube said they’d review channels by the end of January, then April, then June, and then they stopped offering a timeline.

The Creator Community Googled every promise. For example: “we are currently moving through pending youtube partner program applications” yields a bevy of hits.  Let me Google that for you.

All of this is disheartening. Here’s where it becomes disturbing.

In the spring of 2018, YouTube encouraged spurned partners to re-apply for partnership (after making changes, if necessary, to their channels). I re-applied.

Nothing happened.

On July 3, YouTube emailed IlliniReport to say the channel was still under review.

Nothing continued to happen.

On August 30th, I Tweeted to @YouTube. On August 31, YouTube rejected my application.

Clearly, this response is not relevant to IlliniReport.

They may not appeal to everyone, but there’s nothing derivative or duplicative about An Analysis of Illini Newcomer Leron Black, your introduction to Kipper Nichols, or meeting the wacky, singing & dancing Georgian phenom.

Perhaps the minimum wage high-schooler who rejected IlliniReport was bored to tears by watching repetitive interviews and press conferences that have nothing to do with Fortnite. But because the rejection came within 24 hours of the Tweet, it’s hard to imagine the decision was based on merits at all, but was instead inspired by the simple enjoyment of wielding consequential power.

It’s unsettling to think that the person who made the decision enjoyed it.

In our divisive epoch, half the country will think it was petulant to Tweet the plea. The other half will see petulance in the response.  

The sad consequence of Google’s action is that YouTube will inevitably become television, appealing to the lowest common denominator, with predictable programming on a topic that might gather a thousand regular clickers.

Gone will be the amazing one-off  DIY videos that taught me how to repair my garage door opener, replace the 77¢ sprocket that saved my washer and $5 belt that revitalized my dryer, the flame sensor that revived my furnace and the thermopile that activates my gas fireplace.

It turns out that none of you were Russian bots. Congratulations.

All those guys made money for their contributions. We won’t see their like again. The individuals who uploaded those videos are unlikely to garner 1,000 subscribers. A Flame Sensor Replacement Channel would find Episode 2 hard to script.

When YouTube began de-monetizing videos (which actually began in October 2017), I stopped editing the video for my NPR story about the Champaign-Urbana music scene (Morning Edition, Tuesday May 9, 1995). I’ll probably get around to it, but losing the financial incentive = losing the incentive.

The first de-monetized IlliniReport video was Brad Underwood’s postgame at Eastern.

Oddly, in Winter 2019 the vast majority of daily uploads that are
monetized seem to be copyright violating duplicates.

Meanwhile, Google continues to reap billions in profits earned by processing your personal information, which you provided willingly in response to my subscription campaign.

It’s on YouTube (ironically?) that Jon Ronson explains the huge sums Google collects as a consequence of a personal annihilation.

In contemplating an analogy for terrible ideas in marketing, the New Coke comes to mind. But that parallel would apply only if obsessive YouTube fans scoured store shelves to stock up on remaining cases of YouTube, then celebrated its return a few months later by obsessively buying even more YouTube.

A better analog might be Proctor & Gamble rebranding Tide® as Stinky Laundry Detergent, and reformulating its smell. M&M/Mars might remove the peanuts from Snickers®.

Those decisions would eliminate customer loyalty for brands which lead their fields by leaps and bounds, as YouTube did in 2017. But it wouldn’t deprive the customers of income. YouTube’s action is more like the New York Times deciding to stop paying its writers.

I hope you 1208 Illini fans continue to subscribe, for the best of reasons: You enjoy knowing what Brad Underwood said in near-real time. IlliniReport remains the best place to get that rapid response, free of charge.

I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. But the fact is that it costs money to get to State College, PA . Without the income from YouTube, it’s harder to pay the cost of producing that coverage

  • $31.31 for the Spirit flight to LaGuardia
  • $2.75 for the Q70 to Jackson Heights/7 train to Hudson Yards
  • $1 Megabus to State College

Meanwhile, the folks at YouTube continue to send me cheery emails, encouraging me to work on their behalf.