YouTube running controversial experiment where 0.3 percent of YouTube viewers will see automatically generated video thumbnails and not the thumbnails created by YouTube creators.
The announcement came in a quick post in the YouTube Help Forum saying: “Over the next few weeks, a small group of viewers (0.3% of those on YouTube site-wide) will see the default, auto-generated thumbnail for all videos (across all channels) instead of the custom thumbnail.”
But many creators didn’t see the announcement — since it was posted in a not very heavily trafficked forum. The creators affected by the experiment had to reach out to YouTube to get an explanation.
We are running a small experiment where 0.3% of viewers will see an auto-generated thumbnail, instead of your custom thumbnail. We are not removing the ability to create your custom thumbnail, but we hope to gain insights on auto-generated thumbnails for the future.
— Team YouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 28, 2018
Understandably creators are very uneasy about this experiment, especially since YouTube didn’t give everyone a proper warning, nor did it ask for their permission.
….you shouldn't just…. run experiments on us without our consent?? at least let creators opt-in to this if they want. but there's a reason we design our own thumbnails. you're harming our branding and engagement for your own research purposes. @TeamYouTube https://t.co/0PhE65YiXH
— Riley J. Dennis (@RileyJayDennis) June 28, 2018
And while YouTube says it’s a “small experiment”, YouTube has 1.3 billion active users. 0.3 percent of that number is 3.9 million users. That’s still a large number to many and could mean the loss of revenue because thumbnails ultimately help videos get clicks.
Does someone get shot if YouTube announces something before it happens? They JUST had VidCon, where they showed a bunch of Twitch ripoff features for the future, but couldn’t tell people this is a possibility?
Who the hell will click on what looks like just gameplay footage? pic.twitter.com/J250263Uub
— Joshua MacDougall (@FreakinClever) June 28, 2018
Trying to keep the outrage to a minimum, YouTube made it clear it’s not taking away YouTuber’s ability to make thumbnails. Instead, it’s getting insight into auto-generated thumbnails for future improvements. “We are not removing the ability to create your custom thumbnail, but we hope to gain insights on auto-generated thumbnails for the future,” YouTube tweeted when replying to Rayo Alarcón Gareca.
Other than that short reassuring tweet, YouTube hasn’t made any other comments.
What does this mean for the future?
It’s worth noting that not everyone is angry about YouTube’s experiment. Some believe those who are angry are overreacting and say everyone’s getting too worked up over a small and temporary test.
But, while this test is temporary, the reasons for the massive outcry goes beyond the actual experiment itself. It potentially foreshadows YouTube’s actions in the future and it’s leaving creators worried. Will YouTube be running more experiments like this that will directly affect views and revenue of YouTubers without asking for consent or even notifying them that the experiment is happening? No one knows for sure, and that’s what’s making them furious.