The YouTube ‘Adpocalypse’ and the End of MCNs

By the time you read this column, I will have attended VidCon in Anaheim, Calif., for the fourth time in my career as an online video and digital media writer and content marketer. While the previous years’ events each had their own special moments and points of interest for me, I’m particularly excited to see what VidCon 2017 will bring in terms of solutions for the growing, but turbulent, world of online video.

Why turbulent? The first problem that comes to mind is video advertising, which has risen to the forefront of marketers’ minds in the last few months thanks to the now infamous YouTube “Adpocalypse,” which began in April of this year. Once various brands realized their ads were playing against extremist content, they blamed YouTube for the mistake, pulling the ads and causing Google’s online video site to seriously rethink not just the way ads were served on its platform, but also what content was deemed safe enough to deserve ad activation and monetization.

This decision resulted in a host of problems related to YouTube advertising. Some brands began working with YouTube again, but many are keeping their distance until the site can figure out a better way to ensure ads are played on videos that aren’t offensive. Unfortunately, this situation has enraged many video creators who count ad revenue as a significant portion of their incomes. These creators started losing money the moment an arbitrary viewer, brand, or employee of YouTube decided their content wasn’t kosher enough to allow advertising.

Because of all this, I’m curious to see how the Adpocalypse will or will not be addressed. After all, in an industry set up similar to traditional media, digital content couldn’t exist without brands pouring ad dollars into that content. So it stands to reason that as long as brands are making their money, creators will continue to be overlooked. But at the same time, YouTube has a long history with supporting the underdogs of video, putting creators first and supporting their efforts. That agenda has been waning over the years, so what can we expect YouTube to do to address the concerns around advertising?

In addition to the Adpocalypse, another area of online video has developed and changed so rapidly over the last few years that the industry is addressing what will happen next. This area is multichannel networks (MCNs), which started several years ago to conglomerate creators under the umbrella of an MCN in exchange for creator support, advertising opportunities, brand deals, and more. But that model eventually fell apart, with creators claiming MCNs never delivered on the promises they made, and MCNs struggling to stay financially viable (just take Maker Studios, for example, which Disney merged with its other digital properties back in May, essentially proclaiming the lack of value Maker brought to its parent company).

We are in the post-MCN world of digital media. For those of us paying attention, we knew this time would come. But combined with the Adpocalypse, where does this new, shaky future leave brands, creators, and platforms? How will this all play out? I have my own theories. As a self-employed person, I’ve argued for years that it’s usually better and safer to work for yourself than relying on outside forces to make decisions about your life and income. As such, I’ve always pushed for business owners, video creators included, to diversify their income streams. So it’s good to see plenty of panels on the VidCon agenda about how creators can make money as independently as possible.

As for brands, the smartest among them will continue to find ways to get in front of their audiences, supporting the creators and influencers they love and want to work with. Many digital media companies will survive the current upheaval in online video, and many will even help shape its future. But those who continue to be greedy and nontransparent with their business practices are at risk of becoming obsolete in an age in which openness is consistently ranked as one of the most important factors when choosing which brands to buy from and what content to watch in consumer surveys.  

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