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2018 Year in Review: YouTube Partner Program tougher eligibility, new features for all Creators

YouTube unfortunately kicked off 2018 with a scandal. YouTube star Logan Paul outdid his usual jerkish prank videos by filming himself along with the body of someone who appeared to have committed suicide. After dealing with the fallout, and implementing new policies aimed at creators "who cause harm to the YouTube Community" through their actions, I think things have eventually gotten a bit better. But not without some pain first.

In early February YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki shared the company's five top priorities for Creators in 2018, and strides were made towards those goals, including improved transparency and communication around policy enforcement and features, and directly supporting positive content, including creators of educational content, inspirational "Creators for Change", up-and-coming creators around the world with the NextUp program, and providing assistance to journalists and news organizations through the Google News Initiative.

More stringent requirements for the YouTube Partner Program

In 2017 YouTube suffered backlash when it was noticed that spammy, low quality, and sometimes even terrorist content was showing ads. As a result, eligibility requirements were put in place for the first time since 2012: channels needed at least 10,000 lifetime views to be part of the YouTube Partner Program. And channels could no longer automatically join. Instead they would have to undergo review. That was pretty easy for active channels.

But YouTube discovered that they needed an even higher standard to keep "bad actors" out of the program. So in mid-January they announced new eligibility requirements: at least 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours watch time over the past 12 months. Current Partners had a one month grace period to meet those requirements before being removed from the program.

To put that change into perspective, if your channel had 10,000 views over its lifetime (which could be a decade), averaging 10 minutes per view, that would be about 100,000 watch time minutes, or 1666 hours. The 4000 hours-over-the-past-year requirement limits the program to currently active channels.

According to YouTube, 99% of Partnered channels affected by this change hadn't earned even $100 in the past year, and 90% earned less than $2.50 per month. So the majority of channels kicked out of the Partner Program weren't losing much money, and would be able to reapply.

But for years YouTube has mostly equated "Creators" with "Partners", and so the change in status was more than just money lost. It was also felt a bit like being designated a second-class "creator". For example, one of YouTube's five priorities for 2018 was to give creators more ways to earn money. This rang a little hollow at the time, having been posted shortly after YouTube upped the eligibility requirements for the Partner Program.

But for those channels that are monetized, there have indeed been a few new money-making options in 2018, including more ways to sell merch, channel Memberships and Super Chat with video on demand. And YouTube has been constantly improving the algorithms it uses to determine if video content is advertiser friendly, so there should be fewer false positives.

So overall the changes have been largely positive. The biggest complaint we see now in the YouTube forum is that the human channel reviews to join the Partner Program are taking too long. Currently most reviews are completed within a month, but some channels undergo a secondary review. That secondary review backlog now isn't likely to be completed until February 2019.

If your channel has been under review for months, all you can do is continue uploading original content, to help your channel get approved when it is reviewed.

And if your channel isn't going to be eligible for a long time, and your AdSense account doesn't have quite enough earnings to issue you a payment, you can get paid your outstanding earnings balance by cancelling your AdSense account.

New Features to Increase Engagement

YouTube has also been launching and expanding access to new features that are designed to help build a community of viewers and increase engagement with your channel and videos.

The Community Tab, launched in 2016, and slowly rolled out to larger channels, is now available to all channels with at least 1000 subscribers. The Community Tab replaces the old Discussion tab, and lets channel owners post test, videos, playlists, images, and polls.

Stories, originally announced in late 2017 as Reels, are now available to all channels with at least 10,000 subscribers. YouTube Stories are similar to Stories on Instagram: they let channel owners share unpolished casual content, with stickers (of course), that only is available for a short period.

Premieres were announced at VidCon in June and rolled out to all channels in October - one of YouTube's fastest feature updates. Premiere's let channel owners schedule a pre-recorded video, which lets fans both comment and live chat until the video actually goes live. The live chat can then be replayed after the the Premiere is over. For Partners, this means they can monetize their video on demand content with Super Chat.

Live Streaming on desktop and YouTube Gaming comes home

2018 also saw expansion of YouTube's live streaming features.

YouTube Gaming, launched in 2015 as a new home for gamers, and with a focus on live streaming, was merged back into YouTube proper. Instead of separate subscriptions for Gaming and YouTube, those subscriptions were merged. And, along with a dedicated Gaming page, gaming channels are now eligible to be promoted as a Gaming Creator on the Rise.

And, more to my interests, YouTube now lets you live stream from the desktop with no special hardware or encoder software required. All you need is a current browser and a webcam. This doesn't replace Hangouts on Air - it doesn't let multiple people join, webinar style, and there's no screen sharing - but it's an easy way for vloggers to live stream.

Also, a very cool update is automatic live captioning during live streams. This can help anyone in your audience who is hearing impaired, doesn't speak your language or who might have to watch with the sound turned off. It's currently only available to channels with at least 10,000 subscribers with live streams in English. Hopefully this will roll out to more channels and in more languages in the future.

And for fun (and money), you can now link Super Chat payments during live stream chat to real world actions using IFTTT. Let your fans could control your lights or other Internet of Things devices for just a small donation.

Features we lost in 2018

It's always sad to say goodbye.

YouTube shut down the private messaging feature. YouTube's Messages was introduced in mid-2014, a Google+-based replacement for the old Inbox. Messages itself was removed this year, without an equivalent replacement. YouTube does have Chat, introduced last year, but that requires mutual friending. Messages has long been separated from Google+, so that wasn't the issue. It's more likely it was the victim of low usage and spam.

YouTube removed most editing tools. Up until September, YouTube offered a suite of video editing tools, where you could rotate the video, splice together clips, add music, and adjust brightness, color and the overall look. It was slow, Flash-based and glitchy, but for folks who don't have video editing software on their favorite device - or who live stream their content so the YouTube archive is their only copy - those tools were very useful. Now there is a more streamlined and up-to-date editor in YouTube Studio, but it only lets you trim the ends, remove a section from the middle, and custom blur faces and objects.
The old editing tools
The new editing tools 

What will we see in 2019? 

In the coming year some old features will be retired, 2018's newer features will become available to more creators, and there will almost certainly be some surprises.

YouTube Studio (beta) has been getting regular updates and is now the default dashboard, video manager and analytics site for most creators. Look for more updates into 2019.  Hopefully it will be updated to include all the features currently missing before the old Studio is deprecated.

In January YouTube will be removing all the old Annotations on videos. The Annotations editor was deprecated in May 2017, so this will not affect newer videos. YouTube recommends using Cards and End Screens instead.

YouTube will also be eliminating ad-supported Shows playlists and Movies . Few creators had access to these options, so this isn't likely to affect you personally.

There are sure to be some surprises too.

2018 YouTube Tutorials

YouTube 2018 Creator Update Timeline

YouTube Partner Program (YPP) and Live Streaming (LIVE) updates are highlighted. This doesn't include updates to YouTube Kids, YouTube Music, YouTube Premium and YouTube TV, since those are mostly aimed at consumers, rather than creators (although most of you are probable a bit of both).