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YouTube Unleashes Product Placement Police

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In recent months, YouTube has set off some jangled nerves among several of its more popular content producers. The company issued written notifications to several producers who have inked branded integration deals directly with advertisers, gently reminding them that according to its Terms of Service, users are not to post commercial videos on YouTube without permission.

The subtle implication is that YouTube could yank down these users’ videos if it so chose. But the bigger issue is that the Google-owned video giant needs to monetize as much of its content as possible. And as more brands engage in the practice of paying popular video bloggers to integrate their products into videos—rather than purchasing advertising on YouTube—Google needs to find a way to balance its revenue needs with keeping its most prolific talent happy. Officials said the company will soon announce a new formalized process for branded integration videos.

“We have a policy, and if we discover they are embedding stuff we will definitely let them know,” said Tom Pickett, YouTube’s director of online sales and operations. “We have tried to take a more hands-on approach to see if we can facilitate deals. But they shouldn’t be fearful of getting booted off the site.”

Kevin Nalty, a marketing director at Merck & Co., who produces a series of sophomoric videos on YouTube under the moniker “nalts,” recently received a slightly scary e-mail from YouTube about one of his videos containing brand messaging. But he understands YouTube’s need to protect its business. “It’s not unreasonable,” he said. “They are paying these high bandwidth fees, and they don’t want to be seen just as a dumb pipe.”

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