Is YouTube Making It Harder for Animators To Make Money?

"The New YouTube," one of the animated shorts created by Ross O'Donovan.

“The New YouTube,” one of the animated shorts created by Ross O’Donovan.

Ross O’Donovan, an Australian animator who creates Internet animation using the handle Rubber Ninja, has posted a video that argues recent changes in YouTube’s algorithms give preferential treatment to live-action content creators while making it more difficult for animation creators to earn money.

Since an increasing number of animation artists earn a living by creating online content, and Google-owned YouTube is far and away the largest video platform in the United States, these algorithm changes are a troubling development. O’Donovan explains what’s happening in this 9-minute piece:

He claims that YouTube has switched its algorithms for determining “premium content.” While they used to reward video views, now they reward minutes of video watched and frequency of uploads. Channels that excel in the latter two metrics will receive more prominent placement on their platform, as well as attract the premium advertisers who pay higher CPM rates. (CPM stands for Cost per Thousand Impressions, which is a common standard for online advertising rates.)

The problem with this, O’Donovan says, is that producing animation is far more labor intensive than producing live-action content. Independent animators cannot create long videos or upload with the frequency that YouTube’s algorithms require for premium placement.

For example, Simon’s Cat, one of the most successful YouTube channels operated by an independent animator, has uploaded around 70 minutes of content in six years. Many popular live-action channels produce that amount of content in a week or two.

As O’Donovan points out in his video, YouTube’s algorithms discriminate against animation, even if the animation is produced to the highest standards. He explains:

Any channel that is able to produce 10 minutes or more of content on a regular basis is able to be entirely self-sustaining. I speak firsthand on this as a member of the YouTube channel Game Grumps. We produce 30 minutes of footage every day, something that is inconceivable for any animation channel to achieve. Now, understand, I’m not saying in any way, shape, or form, is this kind of content bad…What I’m trying to say is that [YouTube] in changing [its algorithms], they have unintentionally set the playing field for what content is being produced on their platform. Unless an animation production is being backed by an already-established YouTube channel…it’s going to become a more and more scarcely seen kind of content on YouTube.

O’Donovan discovered these algorithm changes in the FAQs that YouTube provides for its certification program. According to YouTube:

* YouTube rewards a 6 minute video with 55% retention (3.3 minutes total for that video) with 20min/viewer total OVER a 3 minute video with 100% retention (3 minute total) where the viewers had an overall average watch time of 10 minutes rather than 20.

* Value is not dependent on the individual video. It also depends on the viewing session from that video.

* Most people think that the value of a video can be measured by how many times that video has been seen. However, we now reward videos that have more watch time. This is a better reflection of the value of the content rather than how many times it was seen. All major search and discovery algorithms are optimized for watch time throughout the site. Not all views are the same.

* Increasing video’s length just to get more watch time does not work, because it affects audience retention and doesn’t increase watch time. Also, don’t decrease watch time to increase audience retention.

What we don’t know right now is whether YouTube somehow compensates for animated content in its algorithms, or if it treats all content the same. If animation and live-action are treated without differentiation, then O’Donovan would be justified in his fear that animation creators, simply by choosing to create animation, are operating at a financial disadvantage to live-action creators on YouTube.

If anyone who works at YouTube can shed further light on this matter, please get in touch with us.


  • Anonymous

    This is why everyone’s been switching to Patreon. I’m not sure if it’s in any way a better model, but at least it means that animators can adapt.

    • http://tresportfolio.tumblr.com/ Tres Swygert

      I was going to say the same thing. Honestly, Patreon has brought a new model that allows animators and other artists to make some revenue on the side, as YouTube’s new model configuration tends to discriminate against animators.

      • klutzux95

        But Patreon only really works for established animators with an existing fanbase willing to support them. New animators can’t do Patreon because they have no fans to support them.

        • http://tresportfolio.tumblr.com/ Tres Swygert

          You’re right on that, and that’s what I meant in my original comment (just didn’t fully specify it, so I apologize). As for new animators, like the previous ones who gained their audiences, will just have to find new ways to be creative and get the support necessary.

          I don’t know how Blip.Tv works out in comparison to YouTube, but I have heard that some other animators are using Blip along with YouTube showings. But I doubt it’s the be all end all.

    • JeanbearTheImmasculator

      You’ll just get some pre pube loading it to youtube and taking your views anyway.

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/FungasmTube Fungasm

    Would like to point out that RicePirate as well posted a video concerning this topic which can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8rxi9xvb_o

  • Toonio

    Seems to me that youtube adjusted to the industry yields for tv animation, which expects from 45 sec to 1 min 30 seconds a week per animator. They realized that If a studio can demand that much and make huge profits, why won’t they?

    Either animators unite (sorry for laughing at this idea) and move to vimeo (or somewhere else), or handcuff themselves to their desks like everywhere else to come up just slightly ahead of making a decent living (or living with their parent for that matter like many 40+ years old animators I know about).

  • Bob Harper

    He’s right. Which is why I abandoned trying to have a Youtube Channel of just animation. I killed myself over a few months producing and promoting and even after gathering a thousand subscribers and over 35,000 collective views I couldn’t even gather the minimum $100 threshold for a paycheck.

    I have been working with top Youtubers and even those who post live action have taken a hit since Youtube meddled with the landing pages. They need a lot more hits than they did before to make money now.

  • Ant G

    Keep up the news on the negative sides of animation, the reality check sets a good balance for me (and presumably others) who get so invested in our craft, we can get blind-sided to what’s going on outside our “if-we-just-work-on-our-dream-it-will-happen” predeterminist bubble.

    Who set the precedent for the average youtube animator’s style??? They all look the same. (the differences only become apparent once you know the creator’s nuisances, but sometimes I really can’t name who’s work this is by a thumbnail alone)

    And Ross sounds American for an Australian (forgive my ignorance if there’s a ton of Australians with that accent)

    • http://ignoranimus.tumblr.com Ignoranimus

      Nah, as an Australian, I can tell you that people don’t sound like that unless they’ve lived in America for a while.

    • http://www.justingoran.com/ Justin Goran

      Ross has been living in America for a while now, and has gotten a much more subtle Australian accent than he use to have. People comment on his lack of an accent all the time so he’s use to it, but originally yes, he grew up in Austrailia

  • Kirby

    Man this bums me out.

  • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1742682656 Richard Smith

    I am thinking about making an independent 2D animated short, so what will this mean for me if I put it up on YT and try to make cash on it?

  • Alex Dudley

    Unfortunately, animators will have to upload videos at least once a week. Doesn’t have to be animation though. Just upload videos of yourself drawing, or even animatics.
    Also, if you’re audience is big, upload your videos on Blip first. They give out more money. Selling merch will help too.

    • http://anothermarketer.com/ Philip Tomlinson

      That sounds like a really good way to take advantage of the algorithm. No one said that an animation channel should be 100% cartoons, adding this extra fluff makes the channel more social too.

    • AC

      Once upon a time, at a loss of quality, I was indeed uploading a new cartoon per week-but even the simplification of the process killed my hardware as I was working so many hours per day on content. I’ll look into animatics, etc.

  • Ryoku240

    What bugs me about this is that people that talk over video games still get good ad revenue, but not people with semi-original work.

    I think animators deserve more than some “HILLAIOUS” dude who tells me how awful Bubsy 3D is, then demands me to “rate comment subscribe”.

  • Matt Wilson

    It’s a difficult situation, because for some of us, we would prefer that our work do the talking for us, but it seems like becoming a Youtube success requires being a ‘personality’ that is on all the time. Your subscribers might not check in on your channel if you aren’t posting (what seems like) daily. And not everyone can be an all-in-one entertainment catalog. Some people just want to animate.

    I will say that Patreon has made more money for me than Youtube ever did. My channel has just less than 8,000 subscribers but I’m making $450/m off my Patreon on just two updates a month. Maybe that’s not helpful to someone who has only a thousand subscribers or needs more time to create their cartoons, but when I see animated Youtube channels with many many more subscribers than mine– 5 figures, 6 figures– say things aren’t working, I just wanna reach out and say “come to crowdfunding!!!” I have a ceiling that I’ll hit due to my (comparatively) low subscriber base, but their ceiling could be really really high if they were able to convert even 1% of their audience into backers. Actual livable wages.

    With Youtube, they are about “now” content and not timeless content. Which sounds cynical, but I don’t necessarily think that’s bad. People want to hear about what’s current, they want to see parody and satire, they want their equivalent of the Tonight Show monologue but they don’t want to watch the Tonight Show. And that need– which is a legitimate need– and the size of that need, benefits certain content producers over others. Even if Youtube adjusts their ad model back to the old way, or adjusts it to reward quality of content over quantity, I don’t think that’s going to change that people come to Youtube for disposable entertainment and not lasting images. I think that Youtube has simply adjusted their ad model to fit their audience, and their audience’s interests, and unfortunately, animators get snubbed in the process.

    That being said, some of the content on Youtube that is successful right now (such as Let’s Plays) has a murky future as well, when you talk about ContentID, the acquisition of Twitch, Nintendo’s affiliate program– will every other company follow suit, etc– that the pendulum could swing back the other way eventually, if that content is chased off of Youtube. But if not, I think it might be worth just looking into spreading your work across as many content portals as you can. Who knows what Youtube will be like in 5 years? Youtube as a service is only 7-8 years old. Everyone used to use Yahoo, and MySpace, and Livejournal. If we’re not looking for the next vine to swing on now, the vine we’re on might snap before we get the chance.

    It’s smart to be forward thinking, and maybe independent animation will find a home on Vimeo, on a dedicated site, in a Gumroad storefront, working directly with Hulu Plus/Netflix, it could go in a lot of different directions. I think something is going to have to step up, like Patreon has done, to build a new animation business model, separate from these old models that may not work anymore.

    • http://OCHOrobo.com Sean DePew

      I’ve been thinking about this problem for a while and its becoming more and more apparent that independent animators will not be able to make a living on youtube. Even if they changed the algorithm in our favor what’s to stop them from just changing it again? The platform is just too unpredictable to work for us.

      You however have shown that moving away from youtube doesn’t mean a loss in revenue, quite the opposite actually. While that is not going to bring in a ton of money its better than what people are making of the youtube ad revenue. Now it may be difficult for someone with out a loyal audience get enough crowd funding to make ends meet, but i think that can change.

      Right now the way youtube is set up anyone can upload anything from a video of their cat they took on their phone to a highly produced news program and this is what I think problem is. There is so much other stuff constantly being posted on youtube that animators cant help be be drowned out by all the other noise.
      I think that if there were a central hub for people to go to for animation that had scheduled programing and a fun community of animators/fans things might work out in our favor. People would come to see one series or animator, and get exposed to other animation they they otherwise might not have seen. Artist could make money off of ads, merch, premium subscriptions, and have all that money go directly to them instead of some studio or youtube network. Hopefully something like this could be the glue holds the community together. I think it could work, I think It would be great, I would like to see it happen.

      • AC

        This is all very true, and our only category on the site is :”Film and Animation” and I’ve certainly seen film dominate it. :-/

  • Christian Bermejo

    The assumption made by YouTube is that quality on-screen time should be praised but in reality they are just rewarding content as mass production replicating the mainstream media model. So yeah… this is sad in so many ways.

  • Ryoku240

    That was pretty light compared to what I’ve said in other places on video game commentators. I’m glad that you enjoy it though. I think its got its place but its gotten way too saturated the last few years.

    Don’t let youtubes weird changes discourage you from making animations for the internet, theres plenty of other outlets for cash you can use your animations for. Build a brand, get some merchandise, and you’ll make a budget living.

    Given how youtube hates it when people “steal” content you’d think they’d promote original stuff, or atleast something more tasteful than PewDiePie.

  • Ryoku240

    Anytime, if you ask me youtube with a paterons the best way to go.

    • http://tresportfolio.tumblr.com/ Tres Swygert

      I can agree with that. Some sponsorships couldn’t hurt either. lol

  • Ryoku240

    Normally I’d put down artists who’re focusing just on cash, but in todays economy and job trouble you can’t blame them, whats the other choice? Go into debt at Calarts?

    At least they’re making original stuff, I’m quite sick of youtubes biggest hits being people that exploit built-in audiences from ancient 30 year old games nobody plays anymore, its lazy but yet people flock to their stuff like herds and youtube rewards them.

    If we’re going to encourage creativity its time to quit watching “Lets Play Marios Mansion 8″, and start searching and sharing original content, its time for us to look for something new.

  • Ryoku240

    Thanks, ideally you’d mix blip, patreon, and youtube for max profits.

    • Alex Dudley

      I recommend submitting to Newgrounds as well.

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/FungasmTube Fungasm

    A bit of a follow-up regarding this topic, http://www.newgrounds.com/bbs/topic/1372021 A news post made by Newgrounds founder Tom Fulp. Worth a read.

  • largo79

    As someone mentioned earlier, show some behind the scenes on an animated short you uploaded. I love watching each animators process and how they go about animating. If you have cool characters do a how to draw video. Mix it up, I think that will be the best way to help you earn a little more revenue.

  • nick

    Tom Fulp of Newgrounds made some comments about the subject too but it was more about his retrospecting on how he felt he failed animators. http://www.newgrounds.com/bbs/topic/1372021

  • AC

    I KNEW SOMETHING WAS UP AFTER THE ALGORITHM CHANGES! I used to pull in views in the 40-50k minimums between 2010-early 2011 and for me to be down to 1,000 peaks now really confused and discouraged me. I see this is totally a site wide issue for even the biggest names on the platform. I do hope it’s fixed because I love making stuff for the audience. I might just make the Newgrounds switch myself.

  • Math

    It sounds to me like youtube is rewarding retention, or percentage watched, which has nothing to do with the length of the video. The “according to youtube” bullet points above literally make no sense. This first point looks like 3 different sentences mashed together in random order.

    Sometimes on youtube you click on a thumbnail to watch a video -just to find out it’s not a video at all, it’s actually just a stagnant image. So they don’t want to reward creators if viewers immediately stop playing fake videos.

  • Anon

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZftMbNcDz_4
    Also goes over other aspects of what is currently going on with youtube

  • http://epicvideofactory.com/ Cory Nathan

    Not for the creatives ones. They still sell.

  • peter j casey

    The problem with this is that people don’t actually watch the content. they just listen to it and it counts as a view and audience retention.

    so Musicians and lets players offering commentary, people listen to that while doing homework or working on other things.

    Not many people actually watch content anymore.

  • VM

    Probably not. Vimeo would be amazing for animation, because they have quality video, YouTube is simply destroying my drawings in every way possible, from thumbnail resolutions to horribly ugly low rez blurry videos while buffering or if you don’t play in HD. But Vimeo is not a business, you rely on people tipping you… or selling content that nobody will buy, because they can get enough [and probably much better] for free. Anyway, I didn’t try to sell anything on Vimeo so.. feel free to disregard this :}

    • Steven Bowser

      Yea, it seems really geared towards those who already make a living apart from Vimeo who want to share their shortfilms and portfolios on there.
      Since YouTube has ads, it can actually be a living for animators in itself–that is until things got bad like this article is talking about.

  • John Trapp

    Why even go on Youtube? I do not get the obsession with that effing website. First off they do absolutely NOTHING to promote your videos, your video can sit on that website for years and get maybe 5 hits. And then if by some miracle it does take off and you get 5 million hits because YOU promoted it some other way, say on television, Youtube then takes 45% of all ad revenue your video would generate from those 5 million viewers. FORTY FIVE PERCENT for doing NOTHING!!! So WHY the hell would anyone ever upload a video to Youtube when you would get exactly the same result on your own website? If a video you made took off, you would get 100% of the ad revenue rather than some billion dollar corporation like Google ripping you off.

  • Joe