Brand safety is a two-way street

Advertisers’ concerns about endorsing objectionable content have forced Google to introduce solutions that protect customers’ brand safety. However, these updates do not favor creators, and Google certainly does not seem to realize that YouTubers have their own brands to protect...

James Waugh, Bidio
James Waugh, is the co-founder of Bidio

Over a year ago, when Google rolled out programmatic guaranteed – a method of delivering ad campaigns brokered directly between a publisher and a media buyer using algorithms – when advertisers weren’t so worried about the quality of their ad placements. But in the past few months, this ‘brand safety’ issue has escalated significantly - here’s a useful timeline from Digital Content Next.

Since March, 250-plus advertisers have pulled over $750m from the open exchange. In response, Google’s chief business officer posted about “expanded safeguards for advertisers,” plus DoubleClick announced several enhancements, allowing publishers to transact fixed-fee deals programmatically.

Now dangerous and derogatory content is not eligible for monetization, and “machine learning systems can’t always discern context or distinguish commentary/humor from hate speech.”

Furthermore, YouTube recently announced channels won’t be considered for its Partner Program until they reach 10,000 views. This clearly shows Google's priorities are not aligned with aspiring creators’ best interests.

Google does not seem to realize that YouTubers have their own brands to protect. Video producers care about their viewers’ experience, just like advertisers worry about quality of their ad placements. Creators are beginning to ask these questions:

Which brands/advertisers appear on my channel? YouTube does not provide that information.

How much does AdSense pay me compared to similar creators? Apparently, one million views is worth about $2,000, according to popular belief.

How much of my revenue does YouTube take? 45%!

What percentage of Alphabet’s revenue comes from YouTube? Nobody outside the company knows… YouTube’s financial information is hidden within Google’s quarterly reports.

In the early days of YouTube, multi-channel networks helped rising stars increase their production value by providing access to resources and equipment. Recently, the YouTube Partner Program has usurped that business model, offering YouTube Spaces to high-profile creators, especially those involved with YouTube Red. As a result, their network is becoming the Hollywood of the internet, but many users prefer to stay independent.

Header bidding has given content producers the power to increase competition for their ad inventory. Before this new auction logic, Google’s waterfall system gave AdX unfair advantages over third-party ad servers and exchanges. Now publishers take the highest overall bid, instead of the first one above a threshold.

This benefits publishers with technology resources, but what about independent creators? YouTube does not facilitate direct bidding, but it is now possible for creators to sell programmatic guaranteed inventory via their own private marketplaces, without sharing revenue, or sacrificing authenticity.

Full Transparency

YouTube should provide complete visibility to both advertisers and creators. Video-level transparency - revealing where ads appear and how much they cost - is the obvious solution, but Google can’t break down the walls enclosing its data jungle. All they can do is work with comScore and media buying agencies to whitelist 'safe' content.

Total Control

So why can’t YouTubers control which ads appear on their channels? All content creators deserve to make informed choices and maximize their bottom line. That is why I believe that artists should be empowered to reject or accept bids. Currently, Google shares most of its ad revenue with ‘preferred’ creators. Big brand advertisers don’t care as much about channels with fewer subscribers and views, despite high engagement.

Moreover, why can’t YouTubers establish price floors? Setting minimum bids may not change what sponsors are willing to pay, but at scale, throttling access to premium inventory heightens competition, which drives up the going rate for exclusive placements.

Contextual Targeting to the Rescue

What is the best way for advertisers to learn about consumers online? They should get to know people based on what they watch, instead of tracking their behavior. Ads following us around the web are certainly annoying, but they also limit publishers’ ability to monetize premium content. Many advertisers identify target audiences on reputable media platforms, then serve intrusive ads through cheaper, low-quality networks.

Don’t give up half your ad revenue to any supply-side platform!

Developing your own private marketplace requires a lot of resources, which up-and-coming video producers often lack. However, with a democratized ad network, independent creators get sponsored without compromising the integrity of their work. Artists, journalists, and entertainers upload original productions, then advertisers compete for temporarily exclusive logo placements in the corner of select videos, with clickable watermarks indicate a direct relationship, which builds consumer trust. Ultimately, this enables authentic and cost-effective influencer marketing, while promoting transparency and control.

James Waugh is the co-founder of Bidio, follow his company on Twitter here