by Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Entertainment, Inc.
(contributions by Hayden McComas and Levi White)
If you ran a business that saw revenues decline by 88% over the course of the past two years, you’d likely make the logical assumption that the business was dying and that it was probably time to think about trying something else to attract new customers. But, what if that very same business actually had a 65% increase in customer traffic over the same time period. At that point you’d probably have to assume you were being robbed blind. Well, this is exactly what is happening to Troma Entertainment and myriad other small content providers who are trying to monetize their content via YouTube and other platforms.
Put another way, even as Troma’s online viewership increased substantially (from q4 2015 to q4 2017 views increased from 5.23 million to over 13 million), the revenue generated from this traffic dropped to almost nothing (see fig 1.1). In Q4 of 2015,”Electra Love”, a typical title distributed by Troma, was viewed 475,000 times and received $913.00. In Q4 2017, the same “Electra Love” was viewed 301,000 times and received exactly $1.20. Another Troma title, “Vegas High Stakes”, which has over 20.7 million views to date has only received $111.66 across its entire lifetime on Troma Movies (Jul 26, 2012 – current). Yet there is literally nothing that Troma or any of the thousands of other smaller content providers can do to stop this vicious strangulation happening while staring helplessly into the red and whites of the eyes of their common assailant.
YouTube, hiding behind the mysterious veil of a computer controlled process claims there is no set dollar amount that applies to the views of monetized programming. Rather, the revenue associated with each view fluctuates in direct proportion with the amount of advertising displayed alongside any clip. And this is where the dreaded YouTube “algorithm” comes into play. Every posted title is analyzed by “the algorithm”. And in the case of Troma and many other content creators, their postings are automatically flagged as “age restricted” or “not suitable for most advertisers”, essentially relegating the content in question to the purgatory where revenue goes to die. As recently as last week, Troma posted its own love letter to the Cannes film festival entitled “Festivals to Fascism” which garnered thousands of hits within hours of being released only to be summarily banned as inappropriate, essentially rendering it worthless from an ad revenue generating standpoint.
Troma is not alone though. There are multiple examples of inconsistency across the application of these standards of decency which seem to make egregious exceptions depending on the size of the creator. In 2017, hours after the horrific shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and injured 500 others, YouTube uber creator Casey Neistat (7.9m subscribers) posted a video to raise money for the victims through a GoFundMe page. YouTube promptly flagged the video “not suitable for most advertisers” and blocked Mr. Neistat from running ads on the video. The very same day, Jimmy Kimmel posted a video about the exact same mass shooting and there seemed to be no restriction to advertising being attached (see fig 1.2)
CNN and ABC were also allowed to run ads on videos that were posted about these shootings that day, all very similar in content to the video posted by Mr. Neistat with the notable exception that the revenues were not going to the victims but directly into the silk lined pockets of Madison Avenue.
Lest it seem as though YouTube is the only offender in this war against the independent content creator, it should be noted that other online content gatekeepers like Amazon are deploying their own strategies for limiting the ways in which independent content reaches the mainstream.
Recently Blumhouse Pictures reported that numerous independent horror directors received emails from the internet behemoth stating that “Amazon will no longer allow titles containing persistent or graphic sexual or violent acts, gratuitous nudity and/or erotic themes (‘adult content’) to be offered as ‘Included with Prime’ or ‘Free with Pre-Roll Ad”. However, a quick search of Amazon Prime movies currently available reveals such titles as “Irreversible” (Lionsgate), “Bound” (Paramount), “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” (Paramount), and “American Honey” (A24) all of which contain large helpings of ‘adult content’ as defined by Amazon above. Yet small independent movies such as “Science Team”, “Invalid”, “My Bloody Banjo”, and “Harvest Lake” are all subject to removal unless the filmmakers excise the purportedly offensive content from their films. In many ways, this feels more sinister and physiologically damaging than simply removing or rejecting the films, having the filmmakers themselves neuter their own children. A chilling and horrific fate, indeed.