from the and-there-goes-your-credibility dept
Except when we're advocating "investing" in YouTube videos, we didn't mean actually investing in them by paying trusted sources to provide positive coverage of the Xbox One. Yet that's exactly what popular YouTube channel Machinima is doing -- and most folks are easily going to connect the dots from there back to Microsoft.
It began with a thread on NeoGAF that included text from an email Machinima was sending out to their partners which offered bonus CPM (cost per thousand views, the standard way advertising is priced) payments on videos covering Microsoft's new console. Their requirements for this "promotion" in the email were already problematic, including gameplay footage from an Xbox One game, a mention of playing the game on the Xbox One console in the video, and a vague reference to following the "guidelines listed in the assignment." Just in those lines, most journalists would find deal-killers. While the line on whether or not YouTube video makers covering games like this being journalists may be a bit blurry, there's little doubt that thousands of YouTubers look to these folks for help on their purchasing decisions. In other words, they're fame rests squarely on their reputations for honest reviews. Minus those reputations, these people have no following.
Which is what makes the details in those "guidelines" mentioned above so misguided.
Now here's where we enter really sketchy territory: Ars Technica tracked down a copy of Machinima's contract for the promotion, and there's one line that stands out: "You may not say anything negative or disparaging about Machinima, Xbox One or any of its Games in your Campaign Video." What's more, these YouTubers can't even be transparent about this arrangement, according to the contract:Hear that sound? That's the sound of this entire promotion exploding with enough payload-force to also take out both the guilty and innocent Machinima video-producers. What this does is put everyone under suspicion. Given what we said about the importance of reputations above, this could be the meteor that destroys Machinima's world.
"You agree to keep confidential at all times all matters relating to this Agreement, including, without limitation, the Promotional Requirements, and the CPM Compensation, listed above. You understand that You may not post a copy of this Agreement or any terms thereof online or share them with any third party (other than a legal or financial representative). You agree that You have read the Nondisclosure Agreement (attached hereto and marked as Exhibit "A") and You understand and agree to all of terms of the Nondisclosure Agreement, which is incorporated as part of this Agreement."
And it isn't just them. Even if you're the sort to withhold judgement on Microsoft for being linked to all this (and a lonely sort it must be), a lack of a direct link doesn't really matter. Microsoft will be under suspicion as well, assumed to have a paid arrangement for all this. That will not only make everyone suspicious of Machinima coverage of the Xbox One, but it will make folks wonder what other arrangements Microsoft may have made with other reviewers and video-producers. Now nobody will be trusted for an honest review. Oh and this doesn't even touch on the fact that this practice (and the agreement) almost certainly violates the FTC's disclosure rules concerning promoting products. In other words, not only could this kill some reputations, but it might also get some people into some fairly serious legal hot water.
And all because someone wanted to sneak in some paid positive coverage, which in the end will torpedo the possibility of any positive coverage. That's not how you embrace the internet, folks...