Google & YouTube Tackle Brand Safety

Last week, Google announced major changes to the way that content is monetized on their YouTube platform – arguably the most impactful updates since the inception of YouTube advertising.  By their own admission, “2017 was a challenging year”; brand safety concerns skyrocketed in 2017 and into the first few of days of 2018, in the wake of the much-publicized Logan Paul incident. With these changes, Google is taking a strong stance in protecting brand safety on YouTube, and moving forward, advertisers will see real, tangible improvement to the quality of content that is eligible to serve ads on this platform.

Google was deliberate in their response and is implementing a number of key changes, notably:

  • Eligibility requirements for content monetization on YouTube have grown significantly, increasing the quality threshold required to be included in the YouTube Partner Program (YPP).  Previously, all channels with 10,000+ lifetime views were eligible. Now, only channels with at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours over the last 12 months will be included.

  • Google has made a large resource commitment to protect brand safety, as they’ve promised a huge hiring wave – ultimately, they will have over 10,000 people by the end of the year. This includes doubling the people working across all aspects of making YouTube a cleaner and safer platform for consumers and brands.  

  • These hires will be responsible for one of the most impactful changes that Google has implemented: moving forward, Google Preferred lineup ads will only run on videos that have been human verified.

  • Google is also revising their content filtration settings when targeting ads, allowing for “conservative”, “standard”, and “edgy” settings, while making the reach implications clear.

  • Furthermore, they are promising full transparency by pushing forward integrations with Integral Ad Science, DoubleVerify, and other independent brand safety tools.

  • Finally, Google is committing to provide notice and support if and when a brand may be featured in the press, as well as 1 hour guaranteed service level agreements for any takedown requests (by mid-Q1).

The response to these changes has been overwhelming, primarily from the content creators themselves. These changes will remove ads (and therefore, revenue for the creators) from millions of videos.  However, this begs the question – what does all of this mean for advertisers?  Let’s dig in to that now.

Simply, Google is putting advertisers first. They recognize that although these changes will be received negatively by some content creators and reduce eligible ad inventory, the revenue risks posed by last year’s negative brand experiences and the resulting press pose a far greater risk. Brands continuing to pull out of YouTube as an advertising channel because of safety concerns would ultimately be much more damaging to Google’s bottom line.

The importance of manual, human review cannot be understated.  Although everyone’s favorite buzzword these days is “machine learning”, machines are simply not yet smart enough to review complex video content.  By committing to this staffing increase to enable manual review on all Google Preferred content, Google is really putting their money where their mouth is.  

Likewise, the changes to content filtration (and by making clear the impacts to scale) will allow brands to make better-informed decisions on targeting, and to understand the tradeoffs to reach that occur as a result.  

Perhaps most surprising is the push to enable third-party brand safety tools like Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify on YouTube inventory.  This is a step in the right direction for Google, who have long enjoyed being able to “grade their own homework” on that front.

To be fair, the commitment to provide advance notice to brands if they may be featured in the press,  as well as to “take ownership and provide support” should be met with a healthy degree of skepticism.  That’s a fairly broad statement, and it remains to be seen how commonplace that becomes.  That said, a one-hour takedown service level agreement is certainly nice to have.

All of this is to say – Google can sometimes seem tone-deaf when it comes to responding to feedback from advertisers.  However, in this instance, they appear to be listening quite closely.  As these changes are rolled out, advertisers that have previously written off YouTube due to brand safety concerns might want to give the channel a second look.