YouTube product manager addresses concerns over algorithm’s role in creator burnout

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YouTube’s creators have long blamed the growing burnout issue within the community on the platform’s algorithm, but a new video testimonial from YouTube’s product manager says that’s not always the case.

Todd Sherman, product manager at YouTube, dug into data for hundreds of channels that took two-week breaks — a pretty lengthy time off for a full-time YouTuber. Sherman suggested the data proved a couple of interesting details, specifically when it comes to vlog-type channels. While some channels can take breaks because their upload schedule isn’t too intense, others rely on constant output from creators, as that’s what their viewers have come to expect. This makes it difficult for those creators to take a break.

Sherman and his team are trying to address that disparity in their work on the algorithm. “It really depends a lot on the nature of your audience and the type of content you’re doing,” Sherman says in the video above. “If somebody does take a break and their audience is still interested in seeing their content, we’re trying to make the algorithm show that to them.”

A good example of Sherman’s investigation is David Dobrik, one of the most popular vloggers on the platform, who took a one-month break between his 419th vlog and his 420th. Dobrik’s 420th blog — a play on 4:20, the length all of his videos run — spiked in viewership as dedicated fans clamored to see his return. The video currently has more than 10 million views, a remarkable number even for someone of Dobrik’s stature.

Still, it took years of near daily posting for Dobrik to reach that point. The grind can often lead to a creator’s burnout. It’s something that Elle Mills, a popular creator who became the face of burnout within the community following a public breakdown, spoke about during her conversation with Sherman.

“I try to refrain from taking too many breaks because I feel like people are less forgiving,” Mills says.

Mills acknowledged Sherman’s point about audience consistency, but argued that in order to get to the point where a creator feels safe enough to take a break and not worry about the algorithm, they have to play the grind.

“I feel like when growing an audience, consistency is the most important thing,” Mills says. “You need to build trust with your audience, and they need to know they’re going to come like every week and see a new video from you. Once you gain that community and that trust, that’s when you’re able to be a little looser with your upload schedule.”

Sherman is aware of the pressure that comes with creators looking to compete in such a crowded field. More than 450 hours of content are uploaded every minute, and there are close to 2 billion logged-in users every month looking for videos to watch. According to Sherman, YouTube is looking for ways to let success be more driven by viewers, and less by the algorithm.

“There are some channel types or content where the audience is really expecting a consistent experience,” Sherman says. “Connecting with a creator, maybe a vlogger, that consistency can be really important. But I don’t think it applies to all channels. We definitely want to set YouTube up so that all different types of channels can be successful and really let the audience drive what gets recommended.”

Burnout within the creator community is something that YouTube has begun to work on, according to executives like Ryan Wyatt. Wyatt, who oversees YouTube Gaming, told Polygon it’s up to YouTube to do better for creators.

“I just think we should be the thought leaders in the space given our size and scale,” Wyatt told Polygon in September. “I think we owe it to our creators. This is something my team particularly talks about often because we manage the top creators as a business. We spend a lot of time having these conversations, and we take it very, very seriously.”

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