YouTube's advertisers recently had enough with the lack of control they felt over where their ads displayed on the platform, driven in large part by frustration with ads appearing on hate speech videos. YouTube reacted, seemingly overhauling the "advertiser-friendly" content categories in the process. And while plenty of words have been written discussing how these changes affect YouTube megastars like PewDiePie, far fewer have been devoted to one prominent early adopter of the platform: independent pro wrestling companies that in part rely upon YouTube ad revenue to stay in business.
Early in YouTube's life, the platform became an outpost for fans to upload classic footage from their videotape collections that never saw an official commercial release. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the biggest wrestling company in the world, eventually started to aggressively exploit the platform, posting highlights of its TV shows within an hour of them airing. As a result, WWE regularly found itself ranked among the top five YouTube channels in terms of views.
In the meantime, promoters like Drew Cordeiro, owner of New England-based Beyond Wrestling, saw YouTube ad revenue as a way to grow his bottom line—a bottom line that, unlike Vince McMahon's WWE, wasn't buttressed by millions of dollars in television rights fees.
And now thanks to YouTube's sudden about-face as to what constitutes "advertiser-friendly" content, Cordeiro finds himself at a crossroads.
Plenty of independent professional wrestling promotions have YouTube channels, but few utilize them better than Beyond. Dating back to its foundation in June 2009, the company has made a concerted effort to be social media-centric, leveraging platforms like YouTube so that fans can keep up with the promotion even if they don't buy its DVDs.
"Basically, the first of every year, all of the ad rates are reset, because supposedly all of the ad companies spend all of the advertising budget leading into Christmas," Cordeiro recalled in explaining how he came to discover the change in YouTube's ad policies. "That's a trend we've noticed every year."
Thanks to the expected annual dip, he initially didn't notice any kind of unusual drop-off until he saw discussion about it on Twitter last month. "I wanna say it was #SaveYTWrestling?" he mused. That hashtag directed him to this video from the GrappleVision YouTube channel, which was uploaded on March 18:
In the GrappleVision video, the author notes how it appears that turning on YouTube's Restricted Mode helps you figure out what videos are "non-advertiser friendly," because they won't come up. According to Cordeiro, though, that's may not be the entire picture of the situation. "Everybody's a YouTube expert now," he explains. "Coming out and saying 'Well, it has nothing to do with the fact that your videos aren't showing up in restricted mode, it has to do with them not running ads on your video because it's 'inappropriate content.'" However, he's found a definite link between the two, because the only video from Beyond's channel that comes up in a Restricted Mode search for "Beyond Wrestling" is the only one consistently generating revenue. As of this writing, though, it won't actually play in Restricted Mode, giving an error message instead, which makes this all the more confusing.
Other Beyond videos are still earning small amounts of money, but it's not clear why, since it doesn't seem like ads are ever running on them.
Cordeiro has attempted to get further details on this and the other advertising issues through his multi-channel network (MCN), which represents Beyond and other content creators so as to give them a hotline to Google so to speak. "YouTube doesn't have a customer service department. They do change the features from time to time. So if you don't have somebody like that, who's hands-on, who can ask questions directly to YouTube and get answers, when changes occur, you're not left in the dark."
Unfortunately, the best his MCN could get out of YouTube was little more than, "We'll let you know when we have more information to share." In the meantime, YouTube suggested making sure video titles, descriptions, and thumbnails would be considered "clean" by a reasonable person, and to appeal any demonetization strikes if thought to be an error. Strangely, none of Beyond's videos were given the black mark of demonetization, further confusing Cordeiro's efforts.
As for WWE, the biggest wrestling YouTube channel of them all? After an initial hiccup, ads are displaying once again for its videos, something that will no doubt flame conspiracy theories.
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