YouTube has made it one of its goals to support and promote African content creators. In 2020, the YouTubeBlack Fund (YBF) initiative was launched for this purpose. Zeph Masote, YouTube Lead for Southern Africa, discussed the program’s success with David Ijaseun, during the graduation ceremony of the YBF 2022 participants in South Africa. Excerpts:
Let me take you back to 2020 when this program started, why did you feel the need to start the initiative?
There was the recognition that we need to elevate and uplift the voices of black creators on the platform, and in so doing, the initiative that stemmed from the YouTube black community was brought through, and the best vehicle that was identified to elevate these voices was the black voices fund.
The predominant reason was that we were looking for a vehicle that was going to enable African storytellers to tell and shape our narratives. We keep on hearing that until the lion tells its own story, we will not get its own perspective. This is us shaping the narrative of what African storytellers have to say.
We have beautiful stories, and we have beautiful colours that are ours as Africans or black creators. This initiative was started to amplify those voices and to make sure that beyond the voice, we are able to create successful careers on YouTube.
We have had the 2021 class and the 2022 class that just graduated. Do you feel that you have achieved your intentions?
It is an ever-evolving journey. I will find an example from each country; from the 2021 class, someone like Maggie who is a podcaster, has gone on to create a network of podcasters and now employs 30 full-time people under his banner.
In Kenya, we have Mandi Sarro who is also growing and creating her own network of people that are a production company. She elucidated yesterday in one of our sessions that she is growing her employee base.
That impact is being felt that it goes just beyond the creator, we are creating avenues for our creators to begin to have an impact in the localities and employ people. From the class of 2022, a filmmaker from Nigeria has been invited to work with Morgan Freeman.
So, this is giving a voice and an opportunity for our creators to get access that would have been tougher to do, but through a program such as the black voices fund, they are able to elevate and get into rooms that they previously would not be able to get into.
What are the benefits that the class of 2023 are going to get?
First and foremost, what the beneficiaries will get from BVF is a monetary grant. This grant ranges from creator to creator, between $25,000 and $50,000. It is not a standard fee, but it is between those two amounts that’ll be determined by the maturity of the creator’s platform, channel size, and engagement level.
Secondly, the creators are afforded the opportunity to work with a partner manager. A partner manager is a YouTube employee and who works directly and very intimately with the creators.
They will help you with your analytics and with amplifying or improving your knowledge of the tools needed to succeed on the platform. From how you initiate key initiatives such as fan funding, which is another way of monetizing on the YouTube platform, to how you optimise the tools that are already within YouTube for your own success.
We have got something called thumbnails, which is a picture that you see when you come to a YouTube homepage. How do you make sure that it grabs one’s attention? But, once again, we will assist you with your content strategy. The partner manager is a holistic manager and hand holder who guides the process and ensures that you can use the best of the best on YouTube for your own success.
Africa’s high, unemployed youth population is a concern. How does YBF help remedy this situation?
We just spoke about the impact that the creators themselves are having on the creative ecosystem, right? We may not all be talented to stand in front of the camera, but there are other skills that are being elevated; there is production, script writing, lighting, etc that is happening.
Let us take the example of what Maggie the South African Creator that I mentioned earlier does, having gone through the BVF, he has grown exponentially to be able to employ people who work for him even behind the scenes.
The impact of programs such as this one is that not only are we improving the lot of the creators, but they too must then go and find people who support them on the back, and it is our hope that we continue to make an impact that is felt beyond on-screen but the ecosystem and that the employment ecosystem is impacted by the opportunities that surface from creators growing.
This is giving a voice and an opportunity for our creators to get access that would have been tougher to do, but through a program such as the black voices fund, they are able to elevate
How can Africa grow its digital and creative ecosystem?
Let me go back to the BVF and what it has done to elevate our stories and creators, where people see people who look like them. That encourages everyone or most of us to say “if he can do it, he has a similar story to mine, comes from a similar background or is even worse off than I am, let me also pick up a camera, try out my talent and see where it goes”; this is where we begin to bridge the gap between your ability and access.
At Google, we are also then closing that gap as well through our initiatives. One of them being the Equiano under-sea cable that we have landed across some African countries. What that does is it closes the access gap in terms of the internet; so, speeds are improving, cost of accessing the internet also decreases, therefore we put it in the hands of the creator to be able to pick up their phone and create.
We are also making it easier with the launch of YouTube shorts, which allow anyone to pick up a phone, create on the go, and post; and who knows you may become viral. And as of next year, we will be monetizing content on YouTube shorts. The opportunity for creators to be able to monetize without having to go through the arduous process of long-form content is also available.
The digital space is becoming an extremely competitive space with platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, etc. How is YouTube positioning itself in order to retain and attract new creators?
First, YouTube was born as a short-form company, the first video at the zoo was a short-form video of the originators of YouTube just showing what it is they are doing. Of course, we then evolved and became a long-form platform where creators were able to share various stories and genres.
Last year, we launched YouTube shorts out of the recognition that we have got a growing or a predominant Gen Z, Millennial, and now Gen Alpha population that is mobile-first, and they like to consume content on the go. YouTube Shorts was created to cater to this audience and the new way we all consume content. We have got a home for long-form creators as well as a bridge for short-form creators.
That is our way of closing or bringing everyone into the fold to say if you are a short-form storyteller, there is a home for you; if you are a long-form storyteller, there is also a home for you.
But there is also a tie-in between the two whereby if I am a long-form Creator I can use shorts to highlight and spotlight the trailer of what I am doing on long-form, therefore highlighting the contents that I have on the long-form and vice-versa, pointing back contents or strategies that highlight what I am doing on shorts.