With Instagram looming, YouTube is trying to keep its creators happy

Is Instagram the “other platform”?
Is Instagram the “other platform”?
Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic
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YouTube is realizing it needs to treat its creators better, now that rival Instagram is making a play for them with its own video platform, IGTV.

The video service announced on Thursday three new ways for YouTubers to make money on its platform, during a presentation at the online video convention, VidCon, in Anaheim, California.

In the next few months, audiences will be able to support their favorite channels within YouTube by paying $4.99 per month to become a member of that channel’s community and get access to exclusive posts, videos, live streams and other perks offered by the creator. The program, called Channel Memberships, will be available to channels with 100,000 subscribers or more that meet certain standards, like being eligible for ads and run by creators over the age of 18. The feature, previously called Sponsorships, launched last fall on YouTube Gaming to compete with rival streaming services Twitch, and will soon be made available on YouTube more broadly.

YouTube is also partnering with custom t-shirt company Teespring to allow creators to customize and sell merchandise directly through their channels, as of this week. Many YouTubers, large and small, already make and sell merchandise on their own for extra cash. Not to mention, hawk it incessantly in their videos.

And YouTube creators will soon be allowed to schedule videos and promote them as if they were live, in the hopes of building bigger live audiences. That comes with perks usually reserved for live videos, like Super Chat, a product that allows fans to buy messages that stand out within a live chat. The new mode, called Premiere, rolled out to some creators on Thursday and will be available more widely in the coming weeks.

Right now, most creators on YouTube earn money from ads that run on their videos. YouTube takes a cut of that revenue. Aside from selling merchandize on the side, many well-known creators also have sponsorship deals with brands.

Lately, YouTubers have been frustrated with policy changes at YouTube that have made it difficult for them—especially smaller creators—to earn money from ads. In February, the streaming service began requiring channels to have at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of videos watched by viewers within the past year to be eligible for ads, up from a earlier threshold of 10,000 total video views. Some creators have complained about their videos being demonetized for no clear reason. Others have argued that changes to YouTube’s algorithms have made it difficult for even their own subscribers to find their videos among YouTube’s recommendations, which drive the most views. It also feeds into concerns about viewer suppression, as fewer eyeballs means less revenue.

Some YouTubers on social media appeared pleased with the new initiatives. But others argued the changes don’t go far enough, and that YouTube needs to do more to help small creators.