Tobuscus Interview: How He Navigates YouTube’s Landscape Today

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As a 15 million subscribers strong YouTube star posting videos since 2006, Toby “Tobuscus” Turner is one of the biggest pioneers of today’s YouTube gaming content landscape. While many creators have come and gone since 2006, Tobuscus continues to delight viewers with his hilarious commentary of video games and trailers as well as animated videos across his personal channel and his gaming channel.

But much has changed in YouTube since 2006.

YouTubers big and small have witnessed their ad revenue decrease after YouTube established their Advertiser-friendly content guidelines in 2016. Content could potentially receive less revenue if they were flagged as “not suitable for most advertisers” for containing drugs, bad language, sexually suggestive content, violence, hate speech, or references to controversial events. Then in April 2017 after reports of ads playing on videos devoted to hate speech, creator drama, and offensive content, advertisers pulled out of YouTube en masse, as The Guardian reported. After YouTube offered improved control to advertisers over where they could place ads, YouTubers received less revenue for videos flagged as unsuitable for most advertisers as Kotaku reported. Some YouTubers were seeing a decrease in revenue as high as 75 percent while others with similar content had none of their videos demonetized, the publication reported. While YouTube has implemented features to facilitate brand deals and added more expanded options to appeal demonetization, the algorithms deciding which videos are flagged or not are still inconsistent and the appeal process can take days to complete. Many have found that their videos are actually suitable for most advertisers after requesting a manual review on videos that were flagged as otherwise.

Meanwhile, YouTubers have been landing themselves in multiple controversies, seemingly justifying the need for advertiser friendly guidelines. The biggest YouTuber on the site at 59,500.000 subscribers, PewDiePie, landed himself in hot water many times last year when he paid two men to hold up a sign with an anti-semantic message as part of a joke gone bad and dropping the n-word during a livestream of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. This year has already seen its first major YouTube controversy when Vlog star Logan Paul posted a video of him discovering an alleged suicide victim in Japan’s Aokigahara forest. Yet these controversies happen and there seems to be little to no consequences. While PewDiePie had his partnership with Disney’s Maker Studios terminated, his channel is still going strong with monthly earnings of $70,100 to $1.1 million according to Social Blade. A week after posting the video on December 31, Logan Paul gained over 370,000 subscribers according to Social Blade.

While Turner doesn’t personally subscribe to drama and the popularity of talking badly about people, he agrees that there’s a sense of loyalty to a following and an audience can grow to love the people they follow. He said that YouTubers are like any other celebrity only they’re much easier to interact with.

He said that people are just realizing that YouTubers are just people thrown into a strange spotlight. When people try to list their personal problems in the public eye it doesn’t do a whole lot of good because you don’t know the full story behind these controversies.

“I know him [PewDiePie] and he’s not racist,” Turner said. “People are people. They’re not these superheroes.”

While he said that creators are only human, he did agree that just like any other famous person people look up to, creators have a responsibility to set a good example and use the platform they were blessed with to promote good and to teach people. This is especially important for YouTubers whose audiences are mostly children who spend all their time watching the people they look up to. Creators are able to impact their development and use that to teach them to either be a good person or to be angry.

“YouTube is a huge classroom where you can go and learn whatever you want and you can teach whatever you want,” said Turner. “It’s important to use that to push the needle in a good direction because we need that now.”

How does Turner push the needle? Since the beginning of his career he crafts jokes in ways that are not offensive and without swearing often. His jokes are also not at the expense of others and if they are then he strives to backtrack and apologize. If reacting to a video of someone wiping out on a skateboard, for instance, he doesn’t want to send the idea that the pain experienced by the skater is something that you can laugh at and look down on the other person for. The key is to laugh more at the situation rather than the person.

This policy has also helped Turner in the wake of the adpocalypse, as his personal channel is not really affected in terms of monetization.

He said that the problem is that people will generally watch stuff they’re presented with even if they get nothing out of it. He compared the anger-fueling content on YouTube to tabloids at grocery stores. You want to know why Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s marriage dissolved but you open it up and there’s just a bunch of stuff that’s fake or factual info presented in a way that makes them look bad. Advertisers don’t want to pay for that kind of content, going instead to more family-friendly content.

On his gaming channel, his big problem with demonetization comes not with YouTube’s ad-friendly requirements but by Content ID systems.

The use and abuse of Content ID is still a problem on the service. If a copyright owner feels that a video infringes on their copyright, then they can block a video from being viewed or monetize the video so that they get the revenue instead of the person who uploaded the video. The problem is that copyright owners have been using Content ID to claim videos even if they fall under the fair use doctrine with states that it’s okay to use copyrighted content if it’s used for commentary, parody, or educational purposes. Users can dispute the claim and potentially earn the ad revenue back, but automaties systems can still falsely claim videos. A video by Sebastian Tomczak of 10 hours of white noise was claimed by five different copyright holders.

If a copyright holder believes that a video is especially egregious in stealing their content, they can send out a copyright strike to have the video removed completely and cause a variety of restrictions for the YouTuber affected. YouTubers can also dispute the strike, at which point the strike issuer can either let it dissipate after some time or take the YouTuber to court. Just like with content ID, copyright strikes have been abused by copyright holders in order to eliminate criticism.

Many times Turner had a video demonetized because a copyright holder may not have recognized that his video was intended to be a parody and thus was protected under fair use. It’s easy for ad companies to claim videos even if they’re protected. You could fight it but you could risk going to court, and many can’t afford to take that risk. But he still feels that it is important that somebody fights them whenever they can. He cite’s “Weird Al” Yankovic’s court battles early in his career to prove that his parodies were legitimate, and even then Yankovic still asks for permission from the author before he parodies their song.

Turner said that YouTube wants to be on good terms with companies and allow their blanket claims to happen across all kinds of content. However the service has taken different measures to give creators a hand in protecting their videos. Instead of giving the ad revenue to the copyright holders when they claim a video, YouTube retains the ad money and then hand it back to you along with your monetization rights if they agree with you disputing a content ID claim or if the copyright holder lets the dispute dissolve. However some of the blanket claims won’t allow you to put ads on a video at all if it contains content from a corporate giant. Universal claimed many of Turner’s literal trailers. Sometimes he’s hired to make those kinds of videos but if a company just doesn’t understand or if their goal is to ensure that nothing contains their content at all, they can still issues claims.

“You can grant them the ability to check a box and everything is demonetized,” Turner said. “I hope they work it out because it seems silly and it doesn’t encourage art which YouTube is about.”

He’s curious to see if there’s going to be a landmark case where someone would actually go to court over a demonetized video and win. He said that the court system has to determine that a video is fair use in a public way before corporations start backing off.

There has been a pretty big case in 2017 in regards to fair use and content on YouTube. H3H3 Productions had a video lightly making fun of someone else’s video that was hit with a strike from the author for allegedly infringing on copyright and putting him in a negative light. The strike was subsequently taken to court. The court ruled that their reaction video falls under fair use “as a matter of law” and is protected as such, and that the video was not defamatory.

While Turner agreed that it was a good step but he wants to see what would happen after an even bigger case.

Turner acknowledges that the majority of money coming into YouTube is made from corporations but he said that they still benefit from growing users with their own content. He doesn’t think it’s balanced the way it currently is. He cites the phenomenon of uploaded videos from creators occasionally not showing up in people’s subscription feeds as an example of this. YouTube did add the bell notification to help alert users of new content from subscriptions but he believes that just clicking subscribe should be enough. He recognizes that YouTube has to make money in the end but they’re not focusing on fostering a home grown community which he believes is a mistake.

When asked for advice to aspiring creators who want to make content despite the threat of the adpocalypse and other problems on YouTube, he said that this isn’t going to last and to just not think too much about it. He said to just be confident that your content falls under fair use. Familiarizing yourself with the Fair Use Doctrine will be a big help.

He also suggested making content for Facebook. You can make any video you want and it’s very easy to share on Facebook. He hasn’t launched a major show on Facebook but he has considered doing a clip show of funny highlights like he used to do. You’ll have to adapt your content to the format by making the video a square and making sure something is happening right away in it, but he also encouraged people to try different things and new content to see what’s successful. There’s currently no monetization options but that also makes it less complicated legally to post on Facebook.

As for the future, Turner and his development team is working on releasing his mobile game, Tobuscus Adventures: Wizards, on PC and then hopefully on PS4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. He also finished writing a book based on his cartoon series “Tobuscus Adventures” and is expected to have it published sometime this year.

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