A new Machinima promotion offers YouTubers cash in exchange for positive coverage of the Xbox One, opening up a whole host of questions about journalistic ethics in the world of YouTube personalities.
It started on Saturday, when word leaked on NeoGAF that the video group Machinima had sent out e-mails to their clients offering cash bonuses for coverage of Microsoft's newest console:
(CPM refers to the cost per thousand views, so this would be a bonus of $3 per 1,000 pageviews.)
A tweet from Machinima's Ron Smith, since deleted, confirmed that the promotion was real:
This all in itself is a little sketchy. Cash in exchange for coverage? Many traditional journalists would be against that type of arrangement, as it tears down the "wall" that typically exists between editorial and advertisement teams. Over the past few years, the meteoric rise of YouTube personalities has called into question the ethical and professional standards held by many popular video-makers, and while some top YouTubers have been very upfront about what they do and how they get access, there are no unified standards. This sort of arrangement seems to blur the lines further.
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."
In other words, this isn't just a simple money-for-coverage swap—Machinima's YouTube personalities, who presumably want their audiences to trust and listen to what they have to say, are actually taking money in exchange for positive coverage.
What's more, these YouTubers can't even be transparent about this arrangement, according to the contract:
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.
Now you might be wondering, "Hey, don't game companies buy advertisements on sites like Kotaku all the time? What's the difference?" The answer to that question is that at Kotaku, the editorial and sales departments are two different entities. Writers at Kotaku don't interact with the people who sell us advertisements, and our editorial team would never promise positive coverage of any game or company in exchange for anything.
We've reached out to both Microsoft and Machinima for comment, and we'll update should they have something to say.
UPDATE (1/21): Machinima sent over a statement:
This partnership between Machinima and Microsoft was a typical marketing partnership to promote Xbox One in December. The Xbox team does not review any specific content or provide feedback on content. Any confidentiality provisions, terms or other guidelines are standard documents provided by Machinima. For clarity, confidentiality relates to the agreements themselves, not the existence of the promotion.
Note: Do you have any information or stories about ethics in the world of YouTube and video creators? Send me an e-mail.