Sunday, May 7, 2017

The YouTube Red Checkmate

I’ve had many issues with YouTube’s Content ID System and the revenue (or lack thereof) that YouTube pays to content owners.  Without rehashing all the details (which you can find here, here, and here), the short story is that I was strong-armed into utilizing Content ID to monetize user-generated uploads containing my music, under what I perceive to be deplorably substandard deal terms (i.e. 55% of net revenue, with no clear understanding of what “net” constitutes).  

While this compromise was necessary to combat unauthorized uploads of my music (and their illegal monetization of my content), when it came to my personal YouTube channel I elected not to monetize my own uploads with ads, in protest of the revenue splits that I find so distasteful (and in defiance of the emerging ad culture).  So I wasn’t making money on my personal uploads, but neither was YouTube.

Then around the end of 2015, YouTube began unrolling something called YouTube Red.  This was a new subscription based service that would allow subscribers to watch unlimited YouTube content without any accompanying or intrusive advertisements, in exchange for a flat monthly fee.  It was touted as a new revenue stream for creators, who would be paid according to how much their content was watched by YouTube Red subscribers each month.  Sounds good … you know, apart from receiving only 55% of net earnings within this new revenue stream.

Fast forward, YouTube Red is fully up and running in all territories, and Red income begins being collected on my behalf within the Content ID System.  Then a realization eventually ensues.  Shouldn’t I be receiving YouTube Red income for my personal uploads?  After all, my YouTube channel is set up and approved for monetization (I simply disabled the ad option on all my videos).  Let’s go take a look.  Huh, I see there are YouTube Red views, but no YouTube Red money.  What gives?

Well, it turns out that in order to receive my share of Red income for any given video, I am required to enable ads on that video.  Even though these are two completely independent and unrelated revenue streams, YouTube holds Red earnings hostage until you agree to play the ad game.  Of course, YouTube has not volunteered or acknowledged this fact, but it has been unequivocally established in practice (at least in my case).  Basically, YouTube has designed an all or nothing monetization scheme - opt in and collect both ad and subscription revenue, or opt out and collect nothing.

Naturally, this introduces a new variable into the analysis.  While foregoing ad revenue results in a lose-lose scenario, foregoing Red revenue results in a win-lose scenario, whereby YouTube pockets their share of Red revenue regardless of the fact that I have not received mine - my share of Red income just gets distributed to other content owners.  So essentially, not participating in Red income equates to literally giving my money away to other people.  

Thus, I now find myself in a situation where, in order to receive my share of YouTube Red earnings, I must monetize my YouTube channel with ads.  Game, set, match.  Well played YouTube.  Well played.


  1. Hi Zack! Tremendous respect and appreciation for your work, and I love your NOMAD album.

    I'd like to invite you to check out my blog post which analyses some of the lyrics from 'The Runner'.

    Find it here:

    Feel free to ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

    1. That was a great read. Thanks for turning me on to the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows…will definitely have to check that out.

      Regarding “The Runner”, it’s certainly a perfect candidate to exemplify the concept of “sonder”, and the excerpted portion you analyzed nicely tied in to your discussion.

      Of course, the song ultimately speaks to a larger notion, in which the benefit / value of a life without attachment is found to be potentially outweighed and/or undermined by the value of enduring relationships that are absent from such a life, and a lack of fulfillment from living without purpose or deep connection to anything is acknowledged. This is really the lesson the perpetual traveler is imparting to the song’s narrator, when their paths cross.

      Interestingly too, the song ties to your article’s discussion of being the “extra” in someone else’s life…the traveler is an extra, imparting his life’s story and wisdom onto the passerby during their momentary encounter.

      So it would seem the song reflects the principles of the article even more than the article itself lets on! :)

  2. Hello Zack ! I am not very good in english but I tried my best to all understand. It was interesting to read that.
    I just wanna say that I am 17 years old and hope to create a movie (a dramatic movie) but it will be difficult because of my age, no money, and nobody knows me. But, if I make this movie one day, you will be the musical director, the one who creates the music. I have know you by the instrumental of Waiting Between Worlds and The Way. Keep going ! You are amazing.

    Your biggest youngest fan. :)

  3. This is something useful i found here. But There should be need of some improvements on YouTube Content/ thats why i have listed some YouTube alternatives have a look at it: Alternatives To YouTube

  4. hey zack,my english is not that good just incase you wonder why this maybe sounds a bit weird.My Question is: Is every video on yt that contains parts of your music,going to be blocked worldwide or only claimed?
    Have a great Day :)

    1. YT videos containing my music get claimed...I don't block content or have things taken down, unless there is something offensive or objectionable about it.

    2. thanks man,for me your music is one of a kind :).Sad that you do not listen to it once its done :D

  5. Artemis the IntrospectionJuly 8, 2017 at 5:38 PM

    I've passed off this blog post and others to friends who can have some effect at YouTube (although don't work in that department technically...) but ultimately I get the sense that it's a blanket policy because they're powerful and can strong arm anyone, and it'll take a lot to change it internally.

    Also unfortunate that taking a high cut seems to be getting more commonplace, across content creation in general... no matter if it's music, video, it's even extending into video game mods or app downloads nowadays.

  6. Hi Zack, I love your music! I've noticed other individuals posting your music on YouTube.. is your music royalty/copyright free or do they pay you a licensing fee to use it?

    1. None of my music is "royalty / copyright free". If you’re referring to user-generated content on YouTube, we utilize the Content ID System to track / claim / monetize / police such content.

      (you can read the other YouTube articles on this blog for background, which are linked in the opening paragraph)

  7. Hey Zack, I know this is a year old; please forgive me for the necropost

    I'm a fan of your albums, ever since Mindheist, and I stumbled on your blog while trying to figure out what kind of person you are.

    After reading this and older posts, I can understand your frustration with Youtube. If you don't mind me asking, is this why you aren't available to stream on Google Play Music? I was confused that you were missing from there but available on other services like Spotify. But if you have beef with Google that would explain it.