Back in early July, when YouTube was (reportedly) in the thick of negotiations with the Federal Trade Commission over issues concerning child safety, it made a change to its algorithm.
YouTube’s algorithm, which has always been a controversial and somewhat shadowy presence for the platform’s creators, is tweaked often, and not all those changes are noticeable. But this newest change was immediately apparent to a number of creators who make content for kids, because it absolutely tanked their views.
A YouTube spokesperson tells Tubefilter that the change, which impacted both YouTube’s core platform and its family-friendly side app YouTube Kids, is specifically intended to “[improve] the ability for users to find quality family content.”
Essentially, YouTube futzed with its search and discovery systems — the cogs of its inner workings that hook up viewers with videos they might want to watch. Again, that’s not something new; YouTube does it a lot. (The spokesperson also told us, “We make hundreds of changes every year to make it easier for people to find what they want to watch on YouTube.”)
What makes this change different is that in action, the new tweak seems to have separated kids’ content into two classifications: content that should be promoted, and content that shouldn’t.
One creator whose content was cleaved off into the “shouldn’t” half is Cory Williams, who’s been on YouTube since 2007. He’s a career YouTuber and runs several channels, including LiveEachDay (418K subscribers), TheMeanKitty (1.2 million), and JustForKids (197K). When YouTube kicked in this new tweak in the second week of July, those first two channels, which aren’t aimed at kids, continued steadily bringing in views. But that third channel saw an immediate, dramatic drop. JustForKids went from netting between 3.5 and 4 million views per week down to 337,488 the week of July 14. The next week, down to 261,742. And the next, down to 104,772.
In a new upload, The New YouTube Algorithm Ended My Channel (below), Williams laments, “The algorithm has decided that [my content] shouldn’t be seen by children.” He adds that the platform he built with his videos — which are unique, animated, fully voice-acted shorts that cost around $1,700 and 90 hours of labor each to make — is just “gone” now, with one algorithmic tweak.
Williams was not the only creator whose channel was drastically impacted by the change. Nursery rhyme channel Cocomelon (53.5 million), one of YouTube’s overall most popular channels, dropped from 575 million views the week before the change, to 436 million the week of, to 307 million the week after, and 282 million the week after that.
Bloomberg, which published a report about the tweak and its repercussions today, also spoke with a handful of kids’ creators, most of whom were not named but all of whom did confirm they too saw their viewership drop off the week YouTube implemented the tweak. It also pointed out that, critically, not all channels had been negatively affected by the change. Indeed, other channels — some of which are connected to larger media entities rather than being run by native creators — have seen an uptick in views.
One of those is PBS Kids (723K). Before the tweak, its weekly viewership was sitting at around 8.5 million per week. But the week of the change, it shot up to 16.3 million views.
Another is Moonbug, the company behind massively popular channels like Little Baby Bum (19 million). Its core channel, Moonbug Kids (313K), went from 9.7 million views to 16.9 million the week of the change, and climbed even higher the week after that, to 17.7 million.
It’s clear that this new change is resulting in more promotion for some channels’ videos, and less promotion for other channels’ videos. What’s not clear is how the algorithm separates “good” channels to promote from “bad” channels, and why YouTube thought this was an at least temporary solution to the various problems with child safety it’s been facing. Tubefilter reached out to YouTube specifically to ask if it plans to do anything about the impact this change has had on creators. We received the above statement.
Creators aren’t the only ones who have noticed the algorithm was promoting kids’ content differently. Some viewers have taken to Reddit to post screencaps of the reams of children’s videos they’re suddenly being recommended, despite having rarely or never watched kids’ content.
As for what impacted channels can do in the meantime…well, Williams is choosing to think of this as a turning point. “It’s a new adventure, a new journey, that life is forcing me to go on,” he says in his upload. “I can sit here and whine about it and complain about how life is beating me up and there’s nothing good happening, and why does this always happen?
“Or,” he continues, “I can say, okay, no, this is happening. It is happening. I don’t have control of this. But what I do have control over is what I am going to do to get out of this. To find something new. To find something better.”