Multiple YouTube creators are claiming that a YouTube bug is costing them between 50% to 90% of their income, both putting their future as video creators in doubt as well as seriously harming their economic wellbeing and even their ability to financially survive as video creators.
“It completely dropped,” says Hessel Broekstra, speaking about his YouTube ad revenue. “To get into numbers, I was hitting $100 days and it dropped down to like $6 days. So that is over 90% decrease, which is crazy.”
I recently spoke to five YouTube content creators and viewed a 62-page document with income graphs, video view statistics, and communications with YouTube support personnel from multiple others. Most say around the same thing: at or around November 16, 2022, revenue per thousand video views (RPM) dropped by 70-90% overnight.
YouTube employees have variously claimed it was a bug, or invalid traffic, or that it was fixed, and have deleted comments on YouTube creator forums, the YouTubers say.
For some channels revenue has since recovered, but for the majority it has not.
And that has at least one of the YouTubers I talked to wondering if he’ll need to get an old-fashion job to make real money.
“Right now I’m making like $30 a day,” says Bryan Talebi. “Right now it’s really hurting me.”
This is a near-repeat of a previous payment bug that I reported on in 2020. That bug cost some creators 50% or more of their revenue, and had serious financial as well as mental health implications on creators, one of who had a very significant and life-threatening breakdown as a result. YouTube blamed that revenue loss — which was also basically instant from one day where videos are earning money to the next day where they are not — on invalid traffic.
Invalid traffic, or IVT, is essentially fraud.
Invalid traffic is fake video views, and can happen if a YouTube channel owner buys video views for their channel from a shady source. More video views means more revenue, and views that appear to have a lot of views look more popular, so their owners are more likely to land lucrative sponsorship deals from brands. The only problem: these fake video views are a scam: they’re likely bots on a server farm simulating a human viewing a video, but no human is actually watching.
(One telltale sign of IVT when you’re on YouTube: videos that have thousands of views and no or very few likes.)
All of these creators swear that this is not the case.
“What they tell us right now is that it’s invalid traffic,” says Youri, another YouTuber. “[But] YouTube controls the traffic … I’m pretty sure that for all of the guys in here, 98% or even 99% of our traffic is coming from the YouTube platform, and then maybe 1% is external. So all of like that, 99% of YouTube [views] is controlled by YouTube, right? They bring the traffic to us. We just upload a video.”
A YouTube creator who owns the Endpoint101 channel shared his view sources directly from YouTube analytics. Out of 62,504 views, only 335 or .5% were external, meaning coming from sources outside of YouTube. Most views came from YouTube’s own Shorts feed — for which YouTube controls the algorithm — and YouTube search, which is an extremely unlikely source of invalid traffic.
Talebi, however, whose revenue has dropped by around 80%, says that YouTube Support acknowledged that there was an actual problem before then blaming it on invalid traffic.
“I contacted [YouTube Support] at least 20 times,” Talebi says. “First few times she denied the problem, then they acknowledged the problem and said it will be fixed. After a few weeks, they still said it needed to be fixed, then they said it was already fixed. The last time I contacted I was told that I have ‘invalid traffic.’”
Talebi doesn’t have a huge channel, but it is slowly growing. Historically his channel was achieving between $35-45 revenue per thousand views, but on November 16 that dropped to $6-9.
One other reason it’s hard to believe the true problem is invalid traffic?
Almost all of the revenue drop, for all the creators, is the result of a drop in revenue from just one ad type: skippable ads.
“Only the CPM [revenue per thousand views] of skippable ads dropped,” says the owner of the Caffeinated Blogger channel. “Non-skippable, bumper, and display stayed the same.”
It’s not immediately clear how many creators are impacted here. The YouTubers think that it’s largely channels that are significantly driven by search, either in YouTube itself or Google search. They estimate that hundreds of channels are impacted.
But it’s likely that many smaller creators just haven’t noticed. I publish videos to YouTube on a small channel with under 10,000 subscribers, and since the revenue isn’t material to me, I’ve never really dug into YouTube revenue statistics. The same is likely true of other small creators for which YouTube is just a hobby. And the truly large creators, the ones with millions of video views, likely make more from brand sponsorships and influencer-style deals than YouTube ad revenue.
Adding to speculation that this is a bug which can be fixed and not really an invalid traffic problem is the fact that at least some of the creators are seeing a complete restoration of revenue … as well as in some cases a resurfacing of the issues.
“Just like the other guys said, it happened on the 16th of November,” says Youri. “Now that bug was reported by YouTube … it got fixed immediately when they said it was fixed. But then right now it’s still happening to other channels as well, one of which happened on the 18th or 19th of January, out of nowhere. I wasn’t uploading videos in that week or on that day, whatever. And then just like that, the bug once again on a channel that hadn’t had the bug before.”
Other have had similar experiences: instant restoration of revenue on at least one of their channels.
“I have a proof that there is a fix,” says Aleksa Mijić, who runs the Car Prodigy channel. “You can see it on my graph.”
And his chart does indeed show that there is a sudden steep drop in revenue from one specific type of YouTube ads — skippable ads — on November 16 to 18. There’s also a restoration of the revenue later in the month.
Despite blaming the revenue drops on invalid traffic in private correspondence with YouTube creators, YouTube support on Twitter seems to indicate that there is in fact a known bug, saying that they are working on a fix:
It’s also been called a “known issue” in a YouTube Help forum.
However, that hasn’t helped those creators who are still struggling with impaired revenue currently, and missing revenue from months of video views. And that, some creators are saying, is causing them to wonder if they can depend on YouTube as a source of revenue, or if they need to diversify beyond the world’s largest video platform.
I’ve asked Google PR for comments on this story twice over a period of nine days. So far the company has not responded.
Subscribe to the TechFirst podcast