Google’s chief business officer, Philipp Schindler, spoke out about the ad boycott that has beset YouTube in recent weeks after major marketers discovered that, in some cases, their ads were running against extremist videos containing calls to violence and hate-speech.
“It has always been a small problem,” Schindler tells Recode, given YouTube’s scale and the imperfection of any such screening technology. “And over the last few weeks, someone has decided to put a bit more of a spotlight on the problem.” Google says, for instance, that ads that appeared against extremist videos represented less than 1/1000th of marketers’ total ad impressions).
In addition to more eyeballs around the issue right now, Schindler tells Recode that, today, the kind of content that could be considered objectionable is “becoming more gray-ish…Take the N-word. If you would just block [videos] when people refer to the black community with the N-word, you would take out a pretty significant percentage of all rap videos…The problem is now, the machines have to start understanding context in a much different way.”
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At the same time that Schindler sought to downplay the frequency of the issue, YouTube’s latest ad safeguards, first announced last month, are now demonetizing 5x more inappropriate videos than before, according to Recode. YouTube has also improved response times after an inappropriate video has been flagged, improved its interface through which advertisers can select where ads appear, and partnered with third-party companies like DoubleVerify and comScore to audit its ability to keep brands in safe hands.
YouTube is also employing its latest in machine learning to detect objectionable content, as well as beefing up staff around the issue. As a result of theses changes, reports Bloomberg, Johnson & Johnson, which had joined the boycott last month, is resuming its YouTube spend in most major markets.
While analysts previously predicted that the boycott could cost Google roughly $750 million — a 7.5% hit to the company’s estimated revenues for 2017, a report in Digiday suggests that ad pullout has had a limited effect on YouTube, and that the boycott ultimately represents an attempt by companies to wrest more control and better deals from the video giant — as opposed to genuine moral outrage.
Pathmatics, which tracks YouTube advertising, reports that overall spending remained stable throughout the month of March, even as the boycott reached a fever pitch, Digiday reports. While spending among YouTube’s 200 biggest advertisers did dip in March as major marketers like AT&T, Verizon, PepsiCo, and Walmart all pulled ads, spend among the top 200 advertisers at the end of March was still higher than their spend in January — before the controversy had entered the public eye.
Additionally, Pathmatics reports, spend from top buyers is usually cyclical around major launches, which could also account for the March drop-off.