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YouTube Is Ending the Era of the Subscriber Count Beef

Live subscriber count tools like the one offered by Social Blade will be impossible starting in August, when YouTube plans on abbreviating public-facing subscriber counts.

by Caroline Haskins
May 24 2019, 5:39pm

Image: Chart and circle from Pixabay, YouTube logo from Wikimedia Commons. 

YouTube announced in a blog post on Wednesday that starting in August, the platform will abbreviate public-facing subscriber counts, meaning that only YouTube creators will have access to their own precise subscriber counts.

YouTube said in the blog that the goal of the change was to create “consistency” on the platform, since the “subscribe” button on channels already shows abbreviated subscriber counts. But a YouTube spokesperson said in an email that once the change takes effect, third parties such as Social Blade—a social media analytics platform known for its live subscriber count tool—won’t be able to host live subscriber counters.

The change will affect YouTube API Services, which can be used by third parties like Social Blade to offer services like live subscriber count analytics for any YouTube channel. Historically, the tool gave third parties access to precise subscriber count information that made live subscriber charts possible.

The change comes after months of several major YouTube campaigns and feuds—like the “Subscribe to PewDiePie” campaign and the James Charles and Tati Westbrook feud—were fueled by noting changes in subscriber counts.

For instance, Social Blade was used en masse to document the development of the feud between beauty YouTubers Tati Westbrook and James Charles. At the height of their feud, watching the subscriber count for James Charles drop in real time became a meme. Social Blade announced that over 55,000 people were on the site at once, an all-time high.

YouTuber PewDiePie launched the multi-month “Subscribe to PewDiePie” campaign in an attempt to maintain his status as the number one most subscribed YouTuber, which was about to by overtaken the Indian-language music video account T-Series. However, the campaign took on a life of its own. His supporters hacked thousands of Chromecasts and smart TVs. In March, a terrorist who killed fifty people in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand said “subscribe to PewdiePie” in a live stream of the massacre. Four weeks later, a shooter targeting a California synagogue repeated the phrase before killing one person. Three weeks ago, a day after the California shooting, PewDiePie announced that he was ending the campaign.

A YouTube spokesperson said that YouTube creators will still be able to access precise subscriber counts.

Jason Urgo, the creator and CEO of Social Blade, told Motherboard that the change will render live subscriber counts “a thing of the past,” and short-term numbers and charts will be less precise. For instance, if it takes a month for a YouTuber to gain a million subscribers, a Social Blade chart may make it appear as if the YouTuber suddenly gained a million subscribers on the last day of the month.

“We found out like everyone else, via a tweet,” Urgo said. “We still have not heard back from them via official channels but TeamYouTube from Twitter did DM us last night saying that today they will try to get someone on the team to contact us. It's now been almost 3 days since their initial announcement though and still we haven't had a real conversation with them yet.”

In a Twitter thread, Social Blade said that it “heard unofficially” that “negative attention to people watching live counts”—such as the James Charles and Tati spectacle—encouraged YouTube to limit public-facing subscriber count precision. According to Urgo, Social Blade heard this unofficial detail from KEEMSTAR, a YouTuber that frequently uses Social Blade as a visual tool to illustrate YouTube beefs, and argue which YouTubers are “cancelled” and which ones are not. KEEMSTAR said that this was a “rumor,” and he did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.

On Thursday, KEEMSTAR popularized the “#SaveSocialBlade” hashtag, aimed at convincing YouTube to reverse the planned abbreviation of public-facing YouTube subscriber counts. At one point, the hashtag was trending in the United States.

Urgo added that he is still hopeful that a conversation between Social Blade and YouTube could lead to a “better solution.”

“We're still hopeful that in talking with YouTube perhaps a better solution can be reached,” Urgo said. “From the overwhelming support we saw on twitter last night with the #SaveSocialBlade hashtag becoming a trending topic in several countries we can clearly see that the community does not like these changes.”