YouTube is generally known for two broad classifications of its users:

  1. Thriving content creators with a huge following who successively monetize their videos due to their popularity.
  2. The masses of viewers that consume the content from these creators.

But somewhere in between is a very broad, loosely defined category of YouTube users. These include individuals, organizations, institutions, and businesses that rely on YouTube for engagement, but especially for the convenience of a free video hosting platform for their needs.

If you fall into this classification, the rest of this article serves as a notice of caution. (I too will be part of this grouping, once I publish videos on YouTube beginning January 2020.)

YouTube can cut off users not “commercially viable”

As of December 10, 2019, YouTube’s new terms of service went into affect. Particularly notable is some new language explicitly stating YouTube’s right to cut off access to anyone using their services:

YouTube may terminate your access, or your Google account’s access to all or part of the Service if YouTube believes, in its sole discretion, that provision of the Service to you is no longer commercially viable.

For content creators and video publishers, Mashable’s reporting interprets this as such:

In its most basic terms: if YouTube isn’t making money off you, the company can delete your account.

To be clear, YouTube has not officially stated for the record what exactly they mean in their new Terms of Service. To the contrary, they’ve insisted nothing really has changed.

Until, and if we ever get more clarity, it can only be assumed that YouTube has legally given themselves broad latitude to cut off certain users they deem as being a drain on their resources – as a result of being incapable of generating revenue on their platform.

As a private entity, YouTube and their parent Alphabet can state their terms any way they wish, and interpret them any way they wish as well, without obligation to be transparent to us (except perhaps as a paid subscriber to their services).

YouTube as a free video hosting platform

YouTube is a great place to host videos, because getting up and running is so easy, and there’s no cost. Plus, you have the added bonus of benefiting from plenty of engagement in an extremely popular social platform.

For these reasons, many individuals, but especially businesses use YouTube as the home for their videos. Your users can view your content on YouTube’s portal, or your company website via <iframe> links – which are auto-generated by YouTube and simple for anyone to lift and paste.

You may not immediately realize it, but by having YouTube host the your videos, you’re taking advantage of a lot of free services. Services that are super-simple to access. Services that require little to no advance research, nor technical know-how to set up.

Services that otherwise would cost you money and configuration time, not to mention advance planning.

chart illustrating free YouTube video hosting services - unlimited storage, unlimited hosting, CDN, streaming media server, analytics, and auto-captioning

What would happen if YouTube were to terminate you?

Well quite simply, you’d need to find alternative hosting options. Here’s what you would have to take into consideration.

  • Storage space. YouTube offers virtually unlimited storage for your videos. Other video hosting services aren’t similarly generous, so you’ll have to shop around and figure how much space you’ll need for your videos. Whatever you do, be cautious before dumping videos on your website – you may be violating the terms of service with your hosting provider.
  • Data transfers (bandwidth from streaming your videos). YouTube does not count steaming bandwidth against their users. Many video hosting services have a limitation on how much data can be transferred per a specific hosting plan, and may charge additional fees if you go over the limit. If you host a video on your website and it goes viral, you may again be violating your provider’s terms of service.
  • Content delivery network (CDN). Some video hosting services include CDN, some don’t. YouTube certainly does. If you want to ensure efficient streaming for your users anywhere in the world, then you’ll want a service that includes CDN, or sign up with a secondary provider for CDN services.
  • No need to provide multiple versions of your videos, or have a streaming media server. Without the convenience of YouTube, you’ll need another hosting provider that can serve up the right video files optimized to the user’s viewing device and streaming bandwidth. The alternative is to generate multiple versions of your videos for low to high-bandwidth delivery, or procure a streaming media server or cloud service.
  • Analytics. YouTube offers a great analytics dashboard for you to monitor user engagement. You’d have to find another host provider with similar offerings, or manually set up Google Analytics.
  • Auto-generated captions. YouTube actually has a good closed-caption generator which analyzes audio content in your videos. If you’re forced to move off of YouTube, you’ll have to arrange for a separate captioning service, and it’s going to cost you. Remember that having closed-captioning is critical to ensuring accessibility of your video content to everyone.
  • Updating your website. What would happen with all those <iframe> links and URLs pointing to YouTube? They’ll all be dead once your YouTube access ends. You’ll have to find and update them all, everywhere on your website.

Some video hosting providers like Vimeo provide most or all of these services with their paid plans. If you’re a company, you or your IT department may want to configure at least some of the hosting from the ground up. Whatever you choose, there will be some level of cost and time involved, and you may have to sign up with multiple service providers for storage, streaming, CDN, and/or captioning.

If you do end up migrating from YouTube, the very likely outcome is that you’ll have to deal with some sort of hassle of not having one or more of the conveniences you’ve long taken for granted.

Be aware… and be cautious!

For the time being, and likely for the foreseeable future, YouTube generates more than enough revenue to justify providing all of its free video hosting conveniences to everyone.

But if things change one day, don’t be surprised if you get a warning or notice that your account is being suspended due to lack of monetization.