It's become increasingly common in recent years to sidestep the confusing, ever changing mess that is trying make money off video advertisements on YouTube by raising money on services like Patreon. If you've watched a Patreon-funded video on YouTube before, there's a chance you've seen a link to that channel's Patreon account at the very end. You can imagine, then, why a bunch of YouTube creators who rely on Patreon were concerned earlier today, when it was discovered they were no longer able to add Patreon links to their videos.
"Huh," said video creator Danny O'Dwyer, co-founder of the gaming documentary series Noclip. "YouTube just pulled support for Patreon links in end-screens, including all our old videos. What a weirdly defensive reaction."
(Full disclosure: I used to work at CBS with O'Dwyer.)
You could drop the Patreon link in a video's description, but be honest: when is the last time you clicked a link in a description, let alone looked at one? Mm hmm.
Weirder still, the only way YouTube would allow a link to a Patreon page was by flipping monetization on, which would allow YouTube to run ads against the video. This is a problem because one of the promises many video creators make is that by funding through Patreon, there are no ads. The loop is broken if new viewers can't find the Patreon page, where they could possibly contribute.
One theory? YouTube had recently announced plans for "sponsorships," a Twitch-like subscription service that would allow viewers to subscribe to individual channels for $5 per month. Perhaps, the idea went, this signaled a further expansion by YouTube, introducing their own crowdfunding model.
The reality, according to a YouTube spokesperson, is more banal. What's changed is YouTube requiring creators to sign up for its partner program, which prompts YouTube to manually investigate the channel, to ensure it's meeting community and advertising guidelines.
"This update is meant to curb abuse and does not affect current YouTube partners or existing end cards," said the spokesperson.
It's entirely likely that channels that began as crowdfunded efforts, with no intention to make money through ads, would skip this process entirely, thus leading to the discovery of today's change.
The spokesperson said some number of channels were using external links to send viewers to places that violated their guidelines, but no specifics were given.
Once a channel has become part of the partner program, they can safely add Patreon links, and are under no obligation to invite ads by turning on monetization. A partnered creator on YouTube confirmed this worked for them.
To join the partnership program, a channel must have 10,000 views in total. (A few people have confused this with channel subscriptions, which are a different metric. There's no requirement.)
As a thought experiment, imagine YouTube had turned off external linking to Patreon. People would be upset, sure, but YouTube would be well within their rights, and it would only serve to underscore the risk a person (or group) takes when basing their business model on the whims of another service. YouTube is a business, Twitch is a business. Heck, Patreon is a business! They're always going to make that the priority. Everything else is secondary.