We need to talk about the infamous YouTube algorithm. Not how it works, specifically, but what I’m certain it’s intended to do. This extends to all algorithms on all social media, where the platform decides what you get to see rather than just giving you what you asked for, in chronological order.
YouTube is an advertising company. It’s how they make money. They don’t charge people to watch videos (unless you want the premium content, which is not conicidentally ad-free). Creators aren’t charged for hosting their content. To pay for everything, YouTube runs ads. Yesterday we talked briefly about how companies only exist to make money for their shareholders. The algorithm serves that principal.
According to YouTube, roughly 300 hours worth of content is uploaded every minute. As in, it would take you 300 hours to watch what was added to the site in the past 60 seconds. They cannot hang advertising on all of that content. There aren’t enough advertisers to go around. So they focus on the videos that have the most eyeballs. This also means that they look to the content creators with the highest number of subscribers, because they’re the ones who are most likely to attract people to see these ads.
Trending and Advertising
Not all of that content is deemed advertiser friendly. A lot of content creators and their viewers don’t think that’s fair, and sincerely belief they know what’s advertiser-friendly and what isn’t. The truth is, the advertiser is the only arbiter of what they’re willing to pay for. YouTube, having been doing this for more than a hot minute, has whole teams of people analyzing what advertisers like and what they don’t, so it’s not just an opinion. They’ve got data to back it up.
So when YouTube puts videos on their trending page, they’re not just posting a list of what’s getting the most views, likes, and comments. They’re putting up the things that get views, likes, and comments that they’re currently running ads on. I’d also speculate that the amount they make per ad impression affects the ranking, too, so videos that earn them dollars per view are more prominently places than things that earn them pennies per view.
Subscriptions and Notifications
One of the problems, from a viewer and content creator perspective, is that people aren’t seeing channels they’ve subscribed to in their feed. They’re not getting notifications when a channel has posted a new video. People think that’s a bug, that the system is broken. It isn’t. It’s a feature, doing exactly what it was designed to do. It’s meant to benefit YouTube, not you.
If you only follow a few channels, you probably see all of them. They aren’t competing with one another for your attention. YouTube collects a lot of data, not just on content creators, but viewers. They know what channels you always watch. They know which ones you only watch once in a while. Odds are they also know how many hours per day you spend watching YouTube. The more channels you follow, they more likely you’ll be to pick and choose what to watch. So they’re going to push what they’ve determined you’ll probably click on.
Add in which videos have advertising on them to this mix. Factor in which videos have the highest payouts for them. Those videos definitely appear in your feed. They want you watching them. Things without advertising suddenly stop showing up. YouTube doesn’t want you to pick those. What you want doesn’t matter. They are an advertising company, and they exist to make money for their shareholders.
YouTube is the New Television
If it helps, think of YouTube in terms of old media. Television shows that get low ratings get cancelled. Why? It’s harder to sell advertising. Commercials seen by fewer people earn less money. Networks replace shows that don’t earn with new shows they think will do better.
With YouTube the principal is the same, except they can’t cancel shows. People who don’t create advertiser-friendly content aren’t kicked off. Instead, they decide who qualifies for a split of the ad revenue, and who isn’t even worth putting ads on. They pick and choose who gets promoted. This results in content getting buried. Even when the content is good. Even when it’s the content you subscribed to see.