It’s that time of year, folks: the avalanche of year-in-review articles will be appearing on your favorite industry websites. Naturally, we decided to do our own roundup of the year in social video and platforms, content creation, and influencer marketing.
The story of the year in online video was the cleverly-named Adpocalypse (ironically, a term coined by disgraced creator PewDiePie), the period of controversy that saw major brands withdraw as YouTube advertisers after examples surfaced of their ads running against questionable or even hate-filled content. Around the same time, as we all remember, the aforementioned one-time top industry star PewDiePie was investigated by the Wall Street Journal for anti-Semitism in his stunts and was later dropped by Disney Digital Network.
The result? YouTube’s immediate response was to demonetize a wide swath of content while they honed in on the videos that were actually problematic. We watched as our colleagues and customers faced double-digit nosedives in monthly revenue during this period, and those that didn’t rely on four or five revenue streams had cause for panic. Some individual creators complained bitterly, asking YouTube for more information on the rationale behind demonetization.
In time monetization was restored to a significant amount of video content, and life (or business) went somewhat back to normal. However, reverberating concerns around brand safety continue as YouTube has recently cracked down on inappropriate children’s content (to the point of removing channels) and announced that it will add more human moderation of content going forward.
The bottom line: There is no going back after Adpocalypse. It shook those who rely on YouTube – from creators to talent networks – to their core. Industry players realized that the response of a large platform when dealing with a much-publicized crisis is to turn on a fire hose of crackdown initiatives. Ironically, brands (and agencies on their behalf) have long had the option of selecting the exact content their ads would run against, and we can’t help but feel that some of the crisis came from misunderstanding of or lack of familiarity with existing platform features. The whole experience was a signal that brand safety has become the main priority for platforms going forward, as the relationship with advertisers is paramount. Creators, networks, and agencies must all operate on multiple platforms and be prepared to react nimbly to future upheavals.
2. The Rise of Instagram Stories & the Decline of Snap
This was the year that one platform yanked a market out from under another by stealing (this part started in 2016), iterating on, and crushing user growth on a major product.
Yes, we’re talking about Instagram vs. Snapchat. 2017 was by all accounts a rough year for Snap (the parent “camera company”) behind the Snapchat app. Although it had started out looking promising with and an IPO early in the year, by late 2017 Instagram’s Stories had exponentially smoked Snap’s original version in user growth, reaching 500 million daily active users by September, and had been copied by Facebook and YouTube too (YouTube’s version is called Reels). The company’s Spectacles product didn’t live up to expectations. To boot, Snap’s stock declined (although it went up in early December over forecasts) and CEO Evan Spiegel effectively apologized for ignoring rank-and-file creators, admitting that his intention to re-boot the Snapchat platform in their favor would take time and cause a temporary delay in platform evolution.
The bottom line: There’s a theme here. Being a major platform whose products and features can be easily cribbed (and even improved upon) by competitors is risky. Snapchat’s ownership is said to have rebuffed a purchase offer of $30 billion from Google in 2016. Perhaps they should have taken it – time will tell.
3. Facebook Moves Toward YouTube-ness
Facebook made its much-anticipated move into video advertising and monetization, with its ability to be a serious YouTube competitor remaining unclear as of this writing. The platform launched mid-roll ads against some video content in the News Feed, and will soon be re-adding pre-roll ads, in this case to video outside the News Feed. Probably the biggest Facebook video news of the year was the launch of the Watch tab and Facebook Originals, with content partners including Tastemade, Univision, and MLB. Finally, a suite of creator tools is now available.
The bottom line: There remains a lot of debate around whether the Watch tab will become a significant destination for viewers. It’s unclear whether the quality or type of video content exhibited so far will have resonance or, related: longevity. Viewers may have a lower tolerance for ad placement than they do on YouTube, which is why pre-roll ads won’t be in the News Feed. And in spite of Facebook’s incredible user base, promotional feed, and profoundly useful (for audience-building) sharing features, there’s still no reliable way for most individual creators beyond a select few to monetize on Facebook.
4. Politically-motivated Platform Manipulation
The big reveal of Russia-based manipulation of social media platforms in the run-up to, during, and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election was the great shame of the digital media industry this year. Though the great vision of online platforms combines the democratization of content, the ability to form communities and connect people across borders (which Mark Zuckerberg frequently references), and the ability to express one’s views publicly or spread an important movement (think #MeToo) with relative ease, the downside is that the platform owners are very clearly not one step ahead of the bad guys.
Advertising mechanisms were exploited. People’s vulnerabilities, biases, and willingness to believe what’s put in front of them were abused to the nth degree. Bots revealed all their ugly influence, and the extent of their impact may not yet (or ever) be truly understood.
The bottom line: The big dream of the social platforms and what they can do for society took a big hit this year. The platforms (Facebook and Twitter in particular) still have a lot of ‘splainin to do around how they track advertisers and advertising funds, as well as how they account for activity from truly nefarious actors. Moreover, the more organic “echo chamber” effect of like-minded people constantly reinforcing each other’s views, and the ever-ugly troll culture, have become real societal factors and their impact must be better understood and mitigated (if we ever figure out how).
5. Platform Updates – Twitter 280 (also, RIP Vine)
Well, it finally happened. In November, Twitter rescinded the 140-character limit that had been in place for the entire life of the platform. The overall reaction appeared to be complaints that the new limit would destroy the joys of micro-blogging and make the platform more like Facebook. Numerous joke tweets ensued.
More seriously, the Twitter brand took hits from its user base and the media not only for cyber-bullying by trolls but also for what appeared to be inconsistent enforcement of Terms of Service violations. Some claimed that regular users received more scrutiny from Twitter than public figures or celebrities, with a regular smattering of @jack complaint tweets to CEO Jack Dorsey’s handle.
Speaking of Twitter, 2017 was the year that the platform actually shuttered micro-video app Vine to focus on Twitter Video. One bright spot to end the year for Vine enthusiasts: one of the app’s founders has recently teased that a new version of Vine might make a comeback.
The bottom line: The negative reaction to the increased character limit now seems like a tempest in a teapot, but the move toward a more algorithmic presentation may be what really impacts Twitter’s distinctiveness. Users who visit the platform for real-time updates, breaking news, and commentary may instead wade through 18-hour-old posts and tweets liked by their contacts. Twitter is taking a risk programming the feed in the direction of, well, every other social media platform.
6. Ecosystem Ups and Downs
Finally, 2017 was a significant year for ecosystem changes and painful signs of maturity in the digital space. Maker Studios underwent a re-branding (to Disney Digital Network) and restructuring process that saw the network keep only a small percentage of its talent. Fullscreen announced that its SVOD platform, at one point a flagship of the Fullscreen family, would cease to exist after January 2018. Both shifts carried HR implications for industry colleagues.
On the up side, this year marked more strategic partnerships between traditional and digital media companies, an incredible swath of major brand involvement in (and reliance on) the space, and the increasing importance of esports as a growth area.
The bottom line: The growing pains of a maturing ecosystem can be tough for talent, the kind in front of the camera and behind the scenes, and for entrepreneurs themselves. It’s difficult to watch colleagues, customers, and friends have to make tough choices and seek new opportunities. But we’re confident that in time, the industry will settle in a positive way. The incredible projected growth of the influencer marketing industry, the rising popularity of branded content, and the continuing dependence of advertisers on YouTube and Facebook (as TV declines), present opportunity for all of us who are active in the online video industry.
What do you think were the biggest digital media events of 2017? Share in the comments below!