YouTube is experimenting with channel sponsorship and Patreon should be worried
For many, the YouTube gold rush is over, and has been for some time. There are a whole bunch of reasons for this, not least of which is that 65 years’ worth of footage is uploaded to the site every day, and there just aren’t enough people on the planet to watch it all, let alone in significant enough numbers to become profitable.
Because of this, and advertisers getting spooked by the dubious content that tends to attract the big numbers leading to revenue caps, only the top 3.5% make more than £8,750 per year. Suffice it to say, the majority of the bottom 96.5% make substantially less.
In short, it’s no wonder that some are looking to supplement their income on the platform, and while not everyone has the following to start their own video site, there are a number of ways to do that. Sponsored videos are one, with influencers doing (theoretically declared) paid spots for products, but others seek a kind of voluntary subscription from fans. Sites like Patreon have made this incredibly easy, allowing performers to get money from their followers in return for exclusive content and other perks.
It’s certainly found some traction, with 100,000 creators supplementing their income to a cumulative total of $350 million. And now it looks like YouTube is slowly reacting to this with its own options. Channel sponsorship, initially in beta from late last year on gaming channels, seems to be rolling out more widely. “Through recurring monthly payments, sponsorships on the main YouTube site and app allow you to purchase public badges, emoji and access to creator perks offered by the channel from time to time,” the site explains.
This, YouTube says, has been a success, with “many” of those included in the trial seeing “substantial increases in their overall YouTube revenue,” according to the company. As a result, YouTube plans to expand this to “many more creators” in the coming months.
A worry for Patreon?
So should Patreon be worried? Yes, bluntly. YouTube, backed by Google’s billions, is many magnitudes the size of Patreon, and while the platform isn’t not exclusively for video-makers, they do make up a large chunk of its userbase. If fans can just donate to their favourite video makers on the YouTube, rather than having to sign up for a whole different site, why wouldn’t they – especially when they get extras to show themselves as super fans within the YouTube ecosystem.
Having already jumped through the hoops of signing up to Patreon, it’s unlikely that people will switch back in serious numbers – but given YouTube is especially popular with younger demographics, if this becomes the default option of sponsorship for new generations, Patreon will likely cease to be relevant to those who for whom the internet is YouTube. And it very well could be YouTubers’ choice, as well. The fewer steps to donate, the more likely a given person is to go through with it. If donations are markedly higher directly through the site, then creators may stop mentioning their Patreon accounts altogether.
A lot of this depends on YouTube of course – if it gets greedy and takes a substantial cut of YouTubers’ subscription money, then it may be in content creators’ interests to keep pointing people off site. All the same, if I were Patreon, I’d be worried: the value of convenience really can’t be overstated, especially when it’s convenience offered by a a multi-billion dollar giant with a track record of getting its way.