Rene's Top 5 on YouTube: Year in Review
Dec 14, 2023 – minute read
Hi. Hello. Where did 2023 go? No, seriously, I’ve checked on YouTube, X/Twitter, Instagram, Threads — pretty much all-the-wheres — and it’s just gone. Like, saw a squirrel, looked away, looked back, and it’s gone, gone. But as YouTube Creator Liaison, the person whose job it is to help YouTube better understand creators and creators better understand YouTube, I know that as fast as 2023 has sped by, the impact it’s made on YouTube and the community has been among the deepest and most meaningful ever.
I, for one, did not have a new CEO for YouTube on my 2023 bingo card! I’ve been a creator on YouTube since 2008, and in that time I’ve come to respect Susan enormously for basically spearheading the creator economy. Under Susan’s watch, YouTube built out the partner program and kept it going through many and mighty challenges. They developed a copyright system that both creators and traditional media could live with, rolled out policies that addressed the concerns of governments and individuals, brought Live Streaming and Shorts to the platform, and the list goes on, and on, and n-to-the-on… Just monumental work to ensure YouTube could function at scale for creators.
But, on February 16, 2023, just as the New Year was chugging down its second shot of quadruple espresso, Susan handed that bright ‘give everyone a voice and show them the world’ torch to Neal.
Neal has spent most of his career helping people make a living on the web and, most recently, served as Chief Product Officer at YouTube. Which means he knows the systems multiple levels deep and, most importantly for many of us, really embraces creators and the partnership that sits so centrally and uniquely to Youtube — that we truly succeed best together.
I’m not saying this to flatter Susan or Neal (my job is literally to indefatigably, dauntlessly advocate for more and better)! Only to point out that platform-level leadership transitions aren’t easy. We’ve seen them play out several times elsewhere on the internet, cataclysmically and spectacularly both, and there are never any guarantees on how it’s going to go.
But watching Neal drill down on policy and product decisions inside YouTube, making sure creators are considered as much and as fully as possible, and then shifting to a boba-battle with Safyia, a piggyback ride for Airrack, or to keeping the cocktails coming for Mythical, and then shift again and explain his vision for YouTube to iJustine and Colin & Samir, I think this transition has been decidedly on the spectacular side — especially for creators.
The partnership I just mentioned — that YouTube and creators succeed better together — saw one of its biggest reaffirmations ever this year as the YouTube Partner Program (YPP) was broadened to include Shorts, and raised up to allow for earlier access to fan funding and shopping.
Shorts monetization has been a huge challenge for the industry. From just… nothing in some regions to unscalable, capped funds and incentive programs in others. Unlike long-form monetizing which is mature and expansive with multiple ads per video, Shorts are still relatively new and there are multiple Shorts per ad. But by making Shorts part of YPP, providing all the support and other options and benefits that come with YPP, and sharing ad-revenue with creators, as Shorts monetization matures and grows, YouTube and creators will benefit and succeed together.
There have been some challenges this year as well. An update intended to simplify ad-friendly guidelines around profanity resulted in an unexpected amount of icons to flip from green (full ads) to yellow (limited ads) for an unexpected amount of creators, and the policy team sprinted to re-update it. To combat scams and spam, links in Shorts descriptions and comments were rendered unclickable, which impacted some creators with heavily web-based business models. (Though Prominent Channel Links, Related Video Links, and Shopping were ramped up to try and mitigate some of that.) Some channels faced issues with invalid traffic (inauthentic ‘clicks’ on ads), which affected ad revenue, or reused content (not original or significantly transformed videos), which affected YPP status.
Creator experience is something YouTube takes incredibly seriously. The teams all spend an enormous amount of time working towards the best possible outcomes, and there’s always more we can and should be doing. Not just for the most or majority of creators but for the many different types of creators, and we’re continuing to double-down on that.
Which is one of the many reasons earlier access to fan funding — Channel Memberships, Super Chats/Stickers, and Super Thanks — and to Shopping was so important to get into the hands of creators as well. It lets those who best nurture and connect with their audiences receive support directly from those audiences. Not every channel or topic will thrive best purely on advertising revenue. And we’ve seen many creators — and not just gamers! — succeed brilliantly through community building and direct support. Now creators can start earlier and, hopefully, thrive and grow even faster.
Multi-format is a term meant to represent all the types of content available for creators on YouTube, from the seconds of Shorts to minutes of long-form to sometimes hours of podcasts and hours and hours of live streams.
YouTube spent 2023 pushing all these content types forward. From collab, recomposition, and AI experiments in Shorts, to multi-language audio and the beginnings of thumbnail A/B testing for long-form, to proper playlist and analytics support for podcasts, to testing vertical live in the Shorts feed for casual streamers, adding support for HEVC (H.265) and AV1 encoding at up to 5.1 surround HDR for the highest end and hardest core, and new ad options for everyone.
Channel Pages to YouTube Studio and Analytics have also now been cleaned up and better organized to separate out the different formats and allow better tracking and comparison of results and opportunities.
That, and ongoing efforts around things like not pelting viewers who turned on notifications for long-form videos with every Shorts upload, but putting a bright red ring around the channel avatar when a stream is live so viewers can jump on and interact, makes YouTube the place where creators absolutely can reach all potential audiences across all potential formats, all in one place.
If a creator wants to co-opt a big studio strat and do Shorts to tease a huge upcoming video, then drop the video — maybe with a premiere! — and follow up with a live Q&A and podcast deep-dive, then pull highlights from all of those to re-market as Shorts, including Replies-with-Shorts, YouTube can help us handle that better now than ever.
But at the same time, where 2022 felt like every creator was FOMO’d into jumping on everything, all at once, 2023 felt more chill and strategic — focusing on what’s right for the channel and for right now.
Maybe that means we just all-caps LOVE one format and only one format, and want to stick with it and build a very specific community around it, or maybe a couple formats, or use other formats as a way to experiment, or have different ideas that we think may appeal to different audiences so want to try them on different channels.
Point being, it feels like YouTube and creators have gotten to where it’s still all about multi-format, but less as multi-necessity and more as multi-option. YouTube isn’t just the place we can start growing, but the place we can branch out to keep growing, with all the creative opportunities all these options can provide, not just now-now-now, but over time as well.
For a decade or more, AI has been coming but never quite arriving. That is, until roughly now. Ish. YouTube has been using AI, especially machine learning, for what feels like several ages of the Internet already, to help with everything from discovery to trust and safety. But this last year saw a Cambrian explosion of generative AI — where the vague promises of quasi sci-fi fan-fic vaporware finally, rapidly started coalescing into a still very much nascent but usable, verging on useful, reality.
Google and YouTube want to approach AI boldly but responsibly. Google announced Bard, and just now booster-packed it with Gemini. That conversational, large language model technology will no doubt level up the experience and capabilities of many things at the company, including what we announced at Made on YouTube this year: Dream Screen, which will let you turn almost anything you can type into a still or video background for your Shorts. Dream Track, which is a very-small-actually-kinda-tiny experiment that will turn anything you can type into 30-second song that sounds uncannily like the participating artists. Inspiration, which will help you find ideas and even generate outlines for future videos based on current audience affinity.
If the first generation of these products seemed stuck in the user experience paradigm of… Zork. But these newer ones are starting to meet people where we are — humming, doodling, filming, productivity…ing.
Some creators worry that AI will replace us. Faceless “educational” videos first, then full-on fake humans doing everything we can do, only at the matchless velocity and volume of GenAI. But other creators are embracing — bear-hugging! — GenAI as a way to make actual humans even more matchless. GenAI is already being used to produce outlines and storyboards, title and thumbnail concepts, to punch up scripts and paint-in fixes for video, to rough-cut a-roll and insert voice-cloned voice-overs over b-roll, and to discover new insights in analytics and comments.
And it’s easy to see why. From the very beginning, YouTube solved for distribution. As a single, solitary creator, almost anyone, almost anywhere, could upload a video and reach the world in a way that used to require a Hollywood studio, radio network, record label, or television channel. No more gatekeepers. But production was never similarly solved for. A single, solitary creator wanting to make a video with 300 doppelgangers running up a hill, or to host an explainer of a starship while walking around that starship, or to produce a weekly animated series, still required the resources and funding of a full-on Hollywood special effects house.
Until now. Maybe. It’s still such early days. But maybe, just maybe, GenAI will, somewhere between soon and eventually, let a single, solitary creator truly compete with the biggest production houses on the planet, based on the quality of ideas, the excellence of execution, and the care for audience — based on vision and voice — with truly anyone, anywhere.
2023 was my first full year as YouTube Creator Liaison, spending roughly half my day working with product and policy teams to better understand and empathize with creators, and the other half helping creators better understand and succeed on YouTube. I don’t do one-on-one support. The super-heroes @TeamYouTube, Creator Support, and Partner Management handle all of that — and at a scale that still boggles the mind. But I do get to help at the platform level, in areas standard support systems sometimes miss, and being able to end almost each day, every day, feeling like I’ve made a meaningful difference for creators is the absolute privilege of a lifetime.
That includes working with the incredible team at Creator Insider to get YouTube leadership in front of creators, to provide transparency and clarity around our Community Guidelines and updates like the new Policy Courses, to explain how the algorithms really work for long-form and Shorts, and to provide deeper dives into new features like Creator Music, YouTube GenAI and Create, and design updates.
It also includes the opportunity to meet up with so many of you in person, be at big events like Google I/O, VidCon, Camera Camp, OpenSauce, Made on YouTube, or VidSummit, smaller meetups at YouTube HQ (especially Make-a-Wish!), Toronto, Montreal, Dallas, and all the other places, including Discords and Slacks, betwixt and between.
Especially the amazing #YouTubeCreatorCollective dinners that began earlier this fall and are spreading so much joy throughout the community and in places outside the biggest of cities and YouTube offices, which are now getting some much-deserved attention for the first time.
Talking with so many of you, hearing your triumphs and frustrations, your wish-lists and must-fixes — seeing how many of you were willing to share Creator Advice Shorts back with the community — was relentlessly humbling and inspiring.
Because that’s ultimately what YouTube is all about. Yes there are businesses aplenty. For sure there are balances that need to constantly be maintained. But being a community that loves what we do is what binds us together — the creators of YouTube and YouTube creators, to steal a phrase — and helps us not just step forward by ourselves, but race forward together. And I legit can’t wait to see what happens next.
Happy holidays and new year to all who are observing and celebrating, and get ready to get with that 2024 contenting!