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It’s Question Time for Google, and the Clock’s Ticking.

It’s been a chastening couple of weeks for Google and YouTube, as more and more brands announce the pulling of online video budgets from the beleaguered tech giant’s video platform.

Why it’s all gone wrong

Google has come under ferocious attack in wake of a recent report from The Times, which found that brands including L’Oréal, Channel 4, Audi, McDonald’s and even The Cabinet Office have been “unwittingly funding extremist videos” by appearing within content featuring “rape apologists, anti-Semites and banned hate preachers”. All have since confirmed the removal of ad spend on YouTube, along with many others.

The fallout from these revelations has irradiated criticisms already levelled at the online environment: the failings of programmatic advertising in terms of ad fraud, poor audience targeting, shortcomings in measurement and a lack of transparency. Having previously voiced concern over the dearth of clarity on where their online video ads are being placed, brands are now seeing their worst fears reach fruition.

As the world’s most powerful presence in the digital advertising arena, Google is facing serious questions over the lack of responsibility that has led to this fiasco. Whilst the job of policing the 300 hours of YouTube video content uploaded every minute is clearly an undertaking of mind-melting complexity, it’s a challenge Google must somehow meet if it is to eradicate a brand safety issue that is profoundly discrediting the digital marketplace.

Momentum swings further in TV’s favour

It also delivers a humiliating blow to YouTube’s assertion that brands looking to reach the 16-24 age group should plough more advertising budget into the platform at TV’s expense. Having already seen the efficacy of this claim eroded by extensive research from Thinkbox, the maelstrom currently encircling Google only diminishes its argument further. Especially when considering that a key factor in TV’s enduring appeal is its status as the most trusted medium for brands.

To compound Google’s woes, Channel 4 – with what must be said is ruthless timing – has just released a new body of research it says shows that ads on YouTube and Facebook are less engaging and more expensive than those aired on TV VoD.

The research, conducted by Cog Research and Durham University, claims to prove that the Cost Per Thousand/Minute for completed ad views is 20% more compared to VoD, with the percentage of ads viewed in an ‘attentive state’ by 16-44s at 53% – some way below the 85% measured for VoD ads. It calls into question the platform’s value proposition – dealing another blow to a body already reduced to its haunches.

User-generated content, and issues

Ultimately, it’s clear that one of YouTube’s key selling points also happens to be one of its biggest weaknesses, particularly when it comes to brand safety and quality control.

Facilitating all and sundry with the ability to upload their own video content has in many ways proven to be a hugely positive innovation. It’s created a hotbed of creativity, debate, ideas and opinion. It’s given a voice to people who may not have had one otherwise; it’s made stars. Yet this democratisation of media ownership also has a darker, altogether malignant by-product, one this whole controversy casts a murky light upon.

As we already know, the logistics of manually sifting through the unfathomably large volume of content that is published each day is a nigh-on logistical implausibility, but a solution must be found, with the automated vetting and crowdsourced reporting processes currently in place evidently limited in their scope and effectiveness. If censorship is the only answer, then what does that mean for Youtube’s very soul?

Google finds itself confronted by an unprecedented challenge: for YouTube to become an advertising platform truly trusted by brands, it’s one that must be met.