Every industry event that I’ve attended this year, the word ‘YouTube’ always pops up. It’s a constant discussion point with no clear solution in sight to addressing the multitude of benefits and issues it causes. For a music fan, it’s the next best thing since sliced bread. Almost any song that you want to listen to is available, with a wider catalogue than anything iTunes or Spotify can provide.
YouTube is more than just a streaming service or a promotional platform. The line between promotional value and monetary value are very closely linked on YouTube. Allowing an unauthorised remix of a track on YouTube can not only bring attention to the remixer but build profile for the original artist as well. Monetising clever or viral User Generated Content (UGC) instead of blocking it can also spread the word about an artist in different and unique promotional methods not available on any other online platforms.
Also unique to YouTube, is the line between piracy and promotional power. A user uploading a video with a link to download a track from a bit torrent site in the description is considered to be full on piracy. But when we start to get into full album uploads to YouTube, the line between monetisation and piracy gets grey.
For those that understand Content ID (YouTube’s fingerprinting technology) and what it does, it always underperforms. As with any piece of technology, it can always be improved. Don’t get me wrong, Content ID has improved tenfold over the last few years, and YouTube’s development team have done tremendous work to improve the accuracy of the technology that is more impressive than any other fingerprinting technology in existence. But we don’t give YouTube or Content ID enough credit for what it does do and has done for the music industry. Without Content ID we would have to search and claim UGC manually, or be constantly issuing DMCA takedown notices. For some artists, up to 90% of money generated from YouTube is from UGC and it’s in general a top digital revenue stream for most artists these days. Without the ability to monetised UGC, the digital revenues accounted for would be a very different landscape.
I must give credit to the labels and distributors who have made great strides in addressing YouTube’s impact and importance in the industry. But I often find publishers and CMOs burying their heads in the sand about it. Where are our publishing royalties from YouTube? Why is it that publishers have access to the same information as labels but it takes publishers 6 months if not longer to pay out? I think some of it has to do with the fact that publishers are still working from spreadsheets and don’t have updated databases with metadata flowing in and out of the business like the labels. The failure of the Global Repertoire Database is an indication that we’re still quite a ways off from a streamlined process for publishers to report royalties in general.
Let’s not forget that YouTube is the “new MTV”, getting more eyeballs on mobile than views for any single cable channel. The irony being that YouTube doesn’t have any sort of curation or targeted marketing strategy (for music or any other types of content available on the platform for that matter). YouTube leaves it up to the channels and MCNs to curate and drive views through supplementary original programming or featuring videos in Sections or Playlists on the channel.
With the music industry clamouring at YouTube’s door for the last few years, demanding payments and monies for what it thinks is owed and due, there’s a lot more that we as an industry could be doing to improve our relationship with YouTube beyond boardroom negotiations. It’s no secret that music YouTube channels contain some of the most watched and interesting video content, yet lack the basic essentials of utilising the banners, channel avatar, annotations, and CTAs (Calls to Actions) in order to maximise not only views but drive downloads and streams off platform that yield higher per stream profits.
This lack of basic marketing practices is one reason for what makes our position weak when we negotiate for a higher revenue share or advance. How can we even ask for more money when we aren’t doing all we can with what’s already at our fingertips? I challenge my fellow industry professionals to stop scapegoating the streaming platforms and to start taking responsibility for what we’re already capable of improving. Once we’ve addressed our own issues, then we can start to address issues out of our hands.
Rebecca Lammers is Laniakea Music‘s CEO & founder. She’ll be pitching in the “Marketing, Social Engagement and Monetisation” category of Midemlab, Midem’s startup competition, June 6 in Cannes (full session details here).