YouTube is adding more ways for video creators to make money, as the company and its users work toward becoming less reliant on sometimes-uncertain advertising deals. The new features include more subscription options, additional merchandise partners, and another way to receive tips during live streams. Direct monetization features like these, says YouTube’s chief product officer, Neal Mohan, have already started bringing in money for “thousands and thousands of channels.”
In particular, YouTube’s Super Chat — a service that allows viewers to pay to pin comments on live streams — has been a growing source of income for creators since its launch in 2017. During a presentation at VidCon today, YouTube announced that more than 90,000 channels use Super Chat, with some streams pulling in more than $400 per minute. “For over 20,000 channels on YouTube, Super Chat is now the primary means of revenue generation,” Mohan tells The Verge.
Over the past couple years, YouTube has been expanding the ways creators can make money directly from their viewers. At last year’s VidCon, it unveiled merch opportunities and memberships, allowing some channels to sell T-shirts and offer subscriptions. Features like these can relieve worries around advertisers disappearing, as they occasionally do amid controversial events. The features also allow YouTube to better compete with platforms like Twitch and Patreon, which have been particularly successful in giving creators new ways to bring in money. YouTube takes a cut of money that passes from viewers to creators.
Successful YouTubers are earning five to six figures a year on YouTube, Mohan says, and the number of creators in that bracket has grown 40 percent year over year.
As part of its efforts to help creators earn more money, YouTube is adding new merch partners for them to work with. Now, YouTubers who partner with Crowdmade, DFTBA, Fanjoy, Represent, and Rooster Teeth will be able to embed a box below their videos where viewers can browse the products they offer. YouTube is also adding a new chat feature called Super Stickers, which fans can buy during live events and premieres to show appreciation for their favorite creators. When purchased, a large animated sticker will appear in the chat.
YouTube’s membership feature is expanding, too. Channels that can use memberships will now be able to offer subscription levels at up to five different price points, with varying perks. This makes the feature even closer to Patreon, which similarly lets creators offer a number of membership tiers for subscribers.
Mohan says the goal is to create opportunities for its creators to build a community. “And then also, of course, opportunities to build a … real global business.” Each creator is their own economic engine, he says, developing a burgeoning business on YouTube. As efforts like channel memberships — which are now available to any creator with more than 30,000 subscribers — continue to grow, YouTube has refined its monetization practices to let creators better tailor their experiences to fans.
For creators like Nick Eh 30, a Fortnite live-streamer with more than 4 million subscribers, these initiatives have had a significant impact on how he makes money. Nick tells The Verge that about 50 percent of his income comes from Super Chat and memberships. “I’m able to engage with my community because it’s such an interactive product,” he says. Because he focuses mainly on live-streaming, it also gives him an easy way to interact with fans in real time. “It’s because of these features that I was able to go over 4 million subs in the last 10 months,” he says. “I think it’s because it’s such a direct and instantaneous way to get your message heard by your favorite creator … with Super Chat, you’re on the air. It’s raw. It’s just you and the creator.”
The growth of programs like Super Chat is a promising way for creators to earn money directly from fans, rather than through ad money, but it’s not without its problems. In the past, Super Chat specifically has been a way for viewers to spread hateful ideologies by paying to have their comments prioritized and for creators to profit off it.
When asked about how YouTube is combating these issues — especially as Super Chat becomes a bigger source of revenue — Mohan pointed to the company’s hate speech policies: “We’ve updated those policies through a lot of hard work over the course of the last several months, and we just announced a new set of policies a couple of weeks ago.” Additionally, he says, YouTube scours on-demand content as well as live streams and live chats.
When pressed about exactly how this enables YouTube to fight toxic behavior on its platform more effectively than before, Mohan says that YouTube has expanded what qualifies as hate on its platform. “We’ve always had a set of policies that define what we would consider hate speech,” he says. “Essentially, what we’ve done is we’ve broadened the type of content that now qualifies as hate speech … That content is now struck from that platform.” YouTube is “continuously at work” building new machine learning and automatic classification tools to help enforce these policies, Mohan says.
Mohan says he and his team are still seeking ways to build opportunities for more creators, as well refining the current options. But these new additions, he says, are expansions of features that have already proven to be a success. “These new products are not some small little experiments,” he says.