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YouTube Turning Away from Small, Independent Content Creators

A year ago Google announced it was investing $100 million in original content for YouTube, and recently Ad Age reported the search giant was “doubling down” with another investment for video channels.

YouTube now averages 4 billion hours of viewing time a month, up from 3 billion a year ago, and the platform is trying to compete with cable channels for eyeballs and ad dollars.

So this influx of production dollars sounds like good news for independent producers, directors and actors, right? Think again.

YouTube is pushing users toward professional, high-end content, much of which Google has a financial stake in its success, to the detriment of the user-generated content that put YouTube on the map.

What type of impact does this have on smaller content producers on YouTube? Content creators on YouTube have experienced massive declines in views after Google tweaked its algorithm that produces its display of video recommendations, de-emphasizing the number of video views in favor a longer average watch time.

A Reuters article detailed how Ryan Douthit, founder of Driving Sports TV, worked for years to develop an ad-supported model for his content on YouTube, only to see those sales disappear since Google recently instituted changes on YouTube. As Reuters reported:

“Over the past year, Driving Sports TV’s popularity and revenues have plummeted as much as 90 percent, Douthit said, as viewers abandoned him for slicker, more professional and better-marketed fare that’s suddenly streaming onto YouTube.

“Douthit is among thousands of amateur video producers who helped Google-owned (GOOG.O) YouTube become the Internet’s most popular video-sharing site.

“But YouTube’s thriving amateur core now feels squeezed out by the site’s sweeping transformation from user-generated clips to more professionally produced content, posing a potential dilemma for Google’s long-term ambitions in online video.”

Douthit produces Driving Sports TV in his garage, and his videos suddenly faced competition from Drive, one of Google’s professionally produced channels that is promoted on YouTube. In fact, Douthit saw Drive being promoted in ads before his videos.

“It felt like being kicked,” he told Reuters. “They’re forcing independent producers like us to go other routes.”

The story of small business being harmed by Google’s anti-competitive practices is hardly a new tale. Tim Carter, a former home remodeler turned Internet publisher, worked closely with Google for years, only to see an overnight change to the company’s search algorithm reduce by half traffic to his site, AskTheBuilder.com, without explanation. Despite many protests to the changes, Carter had no way to bring that traffic back. And Google barely responded to his concerns.

Google’s anti-competitive practices, which drive up advertising costs for all on the Internet, and make it harder every day for companies to get in front of Internet users without paying Google, have a disproportionate impact on small and independent businesses and content creators.

YouTube’s recent shift toward promoting videos in which Google has a financial stake is a further symptom of the company’s conflict of interest that has led the company away from its initial goal of directing consumers to the most relevant search results. The only effective way to resolve the antitrust concerns of the Federal Trade Commission and others is to eliminate this conflict of interest at the heart of Google’s business.