Google, YouTube snubbing Maltese content creators… and they won’t say why

Maltese content creators could stand to make a fortune if only – like their counterparts in many other countries – they could monetise the views and subscriptions on their YouTube channels

Malta’s most prolific YouTuber, with 15 million views and 50,000 new subscribers a month, could stand to make thousands of euros in advert revenue, if only Google (which owns YouTube) would accept to add Malta to its Partner Program, MaltaToday has learned.

Thousands of Maltese YouTubers are up in arms over Google’s refusal so far to add Malta to the programme, thus denying them the chance to monetise their channel’s traffic as users in most other countries do.

This refusal stands despite Malta ranking second in the EU for social media consumption. Eurostat statistics in fact show that 82% of Maltese use social media regularly, trailing only Hungary, which tops the list at 83%. The EU average is 63%. Of the 28 EU member states, only Malta and Cyprus have not been allowed into the YouTube Partner Program (YPP).

In participating countries, once a channel reaches 4,000 watch hours in the previous 12 months and 1,000 subscribers it will be reviewed to join the programme. YouTube says the programme threshold allows it to significantly improve its ability to identify creators who contribute positively to the community and help drive more ad revenue to them – and away from bad actors.

But not in the case of Maltese YouTubers who, like kindred creators worldwide, spend time and money on their wide-ranging channels, yet get nothing in return.

A Maltese YouTuber under the handle of Grandayy posts video memes on his channel, spoofs of popular video series that attracted 14.6 million views and more than 69,000 new subscribers in the last 30 days alone.

Social Blade, a statistics website that tracks statistics and measures growth across multiple social media platforms including YouTube, ranks Grandayy 3,391st globally with a B+ ranking, the only Maltese YouTuber with such a ranking.

Grandayy opened his YouTube channel in June 2014 and his 399 video uploads since then have garnered him over 230 million views and nearly 740,000 subscribers.

Grandayy, who preferred to remain anonymous, told MaltaToday that although creators could partner with a multi-channel network for monetisation, this only provided a small percentage of the return that the YPP provided and fewer options.

“I started making regular Youtube videos in early 2011 on my other channel grande1899 [it’s the second largest Maltese channel after grandayy at the moment], so it’s been more than seven years for me now,” he said. “I never really tried specifically to get big and successful... I just made videos that I enjoyed making, and kept doing that somewhat regularly.”

The fans came gradually and chose to subscribe and stick with him over the years.

“The best advice I can give up and coming content creators is to keep creating what they love.”

Grandayy said he had always enjoyed spending his free time on making Youtube videos, and even just seeing the positive feedback and encouragement from his fans was reward enough.

“Now I’m able to work full time on Youtube though so that obviously makes it even more worth the time,” he said.

“I actually just graduated as a medical doctor a few months ago but chose to not start working as a doctor and instead focus on Youtube at least for the time being, as funny as it may sound.”

Stella Cini is another popular Maltese YouTuber – ranked 11th locally by Social Blade – with more than 680,000 views and 6,350 new subscribers in the past 30 days.

Cini’s channel is all about hair, hair styling and products and accessories, and has garnered 13 million views and over 150,000 subscribers since launching in December 2012.

With those numbers, she could make anywhere up to €2,500 per month in income from advertising – nearly €30,000 annually.

Fighting back

But Malta’s YouTubers are not giving up. MaltaToday has spoken to Fabian Borg, who has set up a petition to put pressure on Google to add Malta to its YPP.

Borg said his nine-year-old daughter realised in September last year that Malta was not included in the YPP and that she seemed “mighty upset about it”.

He said he did some research – initially to placate his daughter’s outrage – and confirmed that, ten years after the YPP was launched, YouTube was still refusing to add Malta to the list.

“What is most frustrating is that they have always refused to say why and, to date, we still have not been given an official reason as to why they refuse us,” Borg said.

At the end of September, Borg set up a YouTube Malta official page on Facebook and launched an online petition – ironically on Google’s own – entitled ‘Google include Malta in YouTube Partner Program’.

To date, 4,186 signatures have been collected.

Signatories include Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who was actually the ninth person to sign the petition, and who immediately took to Twitter to advise his online followers to do the same.

“I am very encouraged by the feedback we are seeing from our politicians for our cause,” Borg said. “More than 33% of local MPs have signed on, as have all six Maltese Members of the European Parliament.”

Among those who have yet to sign the petition are Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia and the President of Malta Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca.

“To be fair, our contacts and discussions with Google so far have been quite cordial and friendly, despite this impasse over the YPP,” Borg said.

Those same discussions, three weeks ago secured Google’s agreement to open up AdWords account listing to Malta, allowing creators to boost their videos.

“We continue to lobby to open up more Google features to Maltese users and creators,” Borg said. “That is the overall aim of our group, though we are definitely more focused on the monetisation at the moment.”

He said that he had a very productive face to face meeting with Enrico Bellini, Google’s representative, two weeks ago during a Google event held in Malta with the topic ‘Find Your Voice in the Digital Age’. The event was in fact organised by PN MEP Francis Zammit Dimech with the support of the EPP Group in the European Parliament and the participation of YouTube.

Bellini is in charge of public policy for Google in Italy and Malta and their impact on EU policy affairs. Efforts to reach Bellini for comment proved unsuccessful by the time we went to print.

Borg said he was confident that an agreement with Google can, and will, be reached.

“In the meantime, while we are bombarded every day with Google ads and related content, Maltese creators continue to be discriminated against, without knowing why,” he said. “We believe we can change that.”