Some 20 to 40 of these individuals have been selected by YouTube to participate in the same revenue sharing and promotional program as YouTube's corporate content partners. More are likely to follow. The primary criterion for admission into this group appears to be having built and sustained the sort of mass audience that appeals to advertisers.
"As we've progressed, we've seen a lot of the most popular members really advance the craft," said Jamie Byrne, head of product marketing at YouTube. "They're developing series that have persistent audiences. ...We've really seen an evolution of the type of content that the YouTube community is creating and we wanted to recognize and reward that by making them partners."
"Participating user-partners will be treated as other content partners and will have the ability to control the monetization of the videos they create," YouTube said on its blog on Thursday. "Once they've selected a video to be monetized, we'll place advertising adjacent to their content so participating user-partners can reap the rewards from their work."
For filmmakers creating "user-generated content" rather than "premium content" or "motion picture extravaganzas," the recognition that a good film is a good film regardless of its pedigree may make up for not being among the several dozen elevated to YouTube partner status.
As Byrne put it, "One of the things that we want to start to recognize is that these users are media entities in their own right."
YouTube comes late to the idea that content creators should be compensated. Some video sites like Metacafe follow a similar strategy and reward only their most popular filmmakers. Others like Revver take a more democratic approach, rewarding anyone sharing videos with 20% of the associated ad revenue and then dividing the remainder equally between itself and the content creator.
YouTube explained its motivation by saying, "We hope that this program inspires people to keep creating original videos, building audiences and engaging with the YouTube community." Indeed, if those creating the most compelling viral videos feel shortchanged on YouTube, there are plenty of less popular video sharing platforms waiting to catch the fallout.