How YouTube’s Algorithm Stifles Animated Content

YouTube’s algorithm isn’t a friend of animation as of late. Changes announced a few years ago created a storm of protest from creators as they realised their revenues were at risk. Since then, things have failed to get better, and an analysis of the company’s method of delivering content proves that animation as an artform is not welcome on the platform.

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What Is the YouTube Algorithm?

The no-nonsense, data-driven approach taken by Matt Gielen and Jeremy Rosen of Frederator Networks makes their article on reverse engineering the algorithm well worth a read. I won’t repeat it, but their key findings are breathtaking:

The data we found suggests 6 main takeaways:

  1. YouTube algorithmically determines exactly how many views each video and channel will get.
  2. Successful channels focus on one very specific content type/idea.
  3. Channels should rarely experiment once they’ve established a single successful content type.
  4. High dollar content producers will never be successful on the YouTube platform and therefore never fully embrace it.
  5. Personality driven shows/channels will always be the dominant content type on the platform because they are the “very specific content type” people are watching for.
  6. New channels that have no access to their own audience off the YouTube will struggle for a long time to grow.

Of these, two are by far the most important with relation to animation.

Animation is High Dollar Content

The first is that ‘high dollar producers’ will not be successful. Animation being as expensive to produce as it is, faces a real challenge with this fact. It is not difficult to conclude that it is easier, or better to attempt success with animation away from the YouTube ecosystem.

In many respects, this is true, as studios such as Rooster Teeth opt to use other services for hosting content. YouTube therefore seems more appropriate as a marketing/interaction tool for animation producers and fans alike than as a hosting site. The dream of using the service as an engine for economic success is subsequently flawed, with the result that anyone still believing in the independent-friendly nature of YouTube is being duped.

Animation Is Not Personality-Driven

This dilemma is already a known issue. Despite being nominal competitors, the high degree of synergy between Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel serves a useful purpose. The ability of stars on each network to cross-pollinate in other areas, increases the overall awareness of each network’s shows among the audience.

Real live actors make this easy to do, but animated characters are not quite so simple to utilise outside of the channel itself. Such is the exact problem that Cartoon Network deals with on a continuous basis, and which prompted the network’s foray into live-action a few years ago. Frozen out by the other two, the channel found itself essentially missing the cross-promotion party and its ratings boost.

Animated characters, while popular, relatable, and commercially viable, are still fictional characters. There is no ‘person behind the mask’ per se. Consequently, generating fan excitement about them or their shows is a tall order.

YouTube is thriving based on its non-animated ‘stars’. They can make live-appearances, and can appear in each others videos. They can also crank out content on a rapid basis; a trait noted above as being an important part of feeding the algorithm.

The End of the Road…?

Despite all the good that YouTube has bestowed on animation in the past, between its algorithm and its increasingly unfriendly behaviour towards independent creators, it seems that the platform is no longer the utopia we all believed it to be.

The good news is that this means there are opportunities to find solutions that do work for animated content. Could animation become a personality-driven artform? Virtual reality technology could make it happen, and Hatsune Miku demonstrates that there are already ways for animated character to interact with the real world; such methods just need to get better. We are living in exciting times with regard to animation, we just need to leave YouTube behind.

5 Comments on “How YouTube’s Algorithm Stifles Animated Content

  1. “Real live actors make this easy to do, but animated characters are not quite so simple to utilise outside of the channel itself. Such is the exact problem that Cartoon Network deals with on a continuous basis, and which prompted the network’s foray into live-action a few years ago. Frozen out by the other two, the channel found itself essentially missing the cross-promotion party and its ratings boost.”

    This is why I imagine the Muppets being a cross-performer’s dream. Not only do they have the appeal of cartoon characters, they can show up on talk shows and like with ease.

    • The Muppets do inhabit a gray area of sorts, which is certainly a part of the secret to their success. The only problem is that the Muppets are a very specific set of characters, and a single entertainment property to boot. There have been relatively few imitators that have acquired a degree of success that even vaguely resembles that of the Muppets, which represents a challenge for anyone wishing to use the idea.

  2. As for the comparison between live actors and animated characters, while your points are right about live actors being more “relatable”, animated characters fill their own niche and are not totally exempt. They are symbols, representing more raw emotions and personalities, and can really push merchandise well. Winnie the Pooh can make a hell of a T-shirt, probably much more so than Leo DiCaprio can. Although the personalities of animated characters are generally not as nuanced as those of live characters, they do represent certain areas of human emotion and concepts that live actors couldn’t deliver as well.

    As far as animated characters interacting with audiences, Chad Rocco of the Familiar Faces channel did an interesting video on YouTube spotlighting the live Simpsons segment, and Disney has been using similar technologies in its theme parks for years. The technology is still in its infancy, but possibilities are endless and eventually, costs will come down. The personality-based arena that is YouTube will benefit handsomely from this if the right people get involved, although big-ticket productions will still have to look elsewhere.

  3. Very interesting. My Startup is working on a VR product that aims to change this by empowering animators and storytellers in a whole new way. I’d be interested to hear if you and your readers think something like this may help ‘fix’ this dilemma. Check it out here: http://www.playrightmedia.com

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