Update: About 45 minutes after TechCrunch picked up this story, the Watch Report YouTube account was restored. Thank you YouTube, and thank you TechCrunch.
Watch Report, one of the oldest and most popular watch blogs, recently had its YouTube account terminated in error, and there seems to be no way to get it back. If you're thinking of building a business based on YouTube advertising revenue, you might want to think again. As we learned, all of your work can be taken away at any moment, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.
Here's what happened to us at Watch Report.
I founded Watch Report in 2004, and although I no longer own it, I'm still a contributor. As far back as 2005, we began differentiating ourselves by doing video reviews in addition to text and photographs. We started out with clunky standard-definition tape-based cameras, then eventually moved to 720p, and most recently began using very nice 1080p HD cameras capable of completely silent auto focus in macro mode. Our videos were becoming as popular as our text reviews, and we put a huge amount of time, work, and money into giving our community the best possible video experience.
Over the years, we uploaded about 50 very high-quality and detailed reviews of everything from Timex and Casio to Omega and Rolex watches. We accumulated roughly 2,000 subscribers and over 2.5 million views (not bad for such specific subject matter). After being invited into the YouTube partner program, we even started to significantly subsidize our AdSense advertising revenue with YouTube ads. In fact, we began to feel like video reviews would represent the majority of our growth for the foreseeable future.
And then, mysteriously, on November 23rd, it all ended when YouTube terminated the watchreport account "due to multiple or severe violations of our Community Guidelines." What are the YouTube community guidelines? You can check them out yourself, but I can save you the trouble because they're quite simple. Basically, no sex, nudity, hate speech, shock videos, illegal acts, threats, impersonation, or copyright violation.
Frankly, I can't think of a set of videos that are farther from violating YouTube's community guidelines. Every single one of our videos consists of either James Stacey or myself spending between 4 - 7 minutes talking about a watch and demonstrating its functions. (We've already started re-uploading them to Vimeo if you want to take a look and see for yourself.) There's no music to violate copyright, no fake watches that we try to pass off as real, etc. We've never even done a single negative review, opting instead to send watches we don't like back since we never wanted Watch Report to be about any kind of bashing or negativity.
So what could have happened? It's possible that the account was compromised and someone uploaded a bunch of videos that were in violation of YouTube's guidelines, however I seriously doubt it. First of all, I think we would have noticed right away, and second of all, YouTube claims that they will initially remove videos rather than terminate an account, and we never received a single warning. It's possible that our competition found a way to report us enough times that the account got flagged, but YouTube claims that their staff reviews flagged videos to determine if they violate community guidelines, and there's absolutely no way anyone could possibly interpret any of our videos as being in violation. It's also possible that someone claimed that we stole their videos (people steal and republish our content all the time -- it's a very sleazy world out there), however one would think that YouTube would be able to figure out that we upload all original video files, and have been doing so for almost 6 years. We were, after all, one of the very first watch blogs, and probably the very first to do video reviews.
Despite our repeated attempts to get an explanation from Google/YouTube, we haven't received a single email with any sort of explanation whatsoever. There's no appeal process, no phone number to call, and no email address you can use to try to solve problems like these (we opened a support ticket, and heard nothing in response). Once YouTube has, for whatever reason, determined that you are in violation, it's apparently over.
I have to admit that I worried about this kind of thing in the past. Whenever you're building a business on top of someone else's platform, you have to worry about that platform being yanked out from under you (in this case, YouTube and AdSense). But considering the fact that I've always had a good relationship with Google (account managers email me from time to time to see if everything is going ok), I always assumed that if a mistake like this were ever made, there would be some sort of recourse and/or due process. After all the money that Watch Report has made Google in text and video ads over the years, and all the time and effort we put into generating extremely high quality content for Google to monetize, it never occurred to me that we wouldn't be able to get even a single email in response to what is obviously a huge mistake.
If Google and YouTube have grown too big to take care of the customers and partners who make them as successful as they are, then they have simply grown too big. If they expect people to build businesses on their platforms, I think it's reasonable for their partners to expect a little courtesy and respect in return.
(If anyone from YouTube or Google happens to see this, the account in question is watchreport and we'd still love to know why this happened.)