If YouTube CEO Neal Mohan Wants More Emmys, He Should Support Creators

Youtube Ceo Neal Mohan with emmy awards behind him
Neal Mohan Joe Seer/Shutterstock Collision Conf/Wikipedia

YouTube CEO Neal Mohan published a guest column in The Hollywood Reporter this week. In it, he suggested that it’s time the Television Academy and its Emmy Awards program recognize YouTube and YouTubers. 

It’s hard to argue with the broad premise of Mohan’s column. YouTube is the most watched streaming platform in the US, with a consistent audience that’s as large or even larger than the biggest American media companies and streaming platforms. 

As Mohan rightly points out, for the majority of US viewers, there’s no real daylight between YouTube content like “Hot Ones” or “Good Mythical Morning” and conventional TV content like “The Late Show with Seth Meyers” or “Morning Joe.” So why shouldn’t the mainstream award show recognizing TV also include YouTubers in its categories and nominees?

Still, Mohan’s timing and approach here leave something to be desired. 

First off, many YouTubers have already been nominated for and even won Emmy Awards. Mohan focuses his arguments on the Primetime Emmy Awards, the ones that get the most press and are attended by all the biggest TV stars and personalities. But he’s leaving out the Creative Arts Emmys, which are presented each year by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in a separate ceremony, which is also usually televised. This year’s event was held at the Peacock Theater in Downtown LA and aired on FXX. 

Streaming original programming is eligible for Creative Arts Emmys and YouTubers have been frequently nominated. In 2022, Randy Rainbow was nominated for Outstanding Short Form Comedy/Variety series for “The Randy Rainbow Show,” Anthony A. Anderson was up for an acting award for the web series “Anacostia,” and three of the five nominees for Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy series went to YouTube performances. The year before that, Emmanuel Acho’s YouTube series “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” won the Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Short Form Nonfiction or Reality Series.

These aren’t the most prominent categories, and it’s fair to say that YouTubers deserve wider recognition. But by leaving these nominations and wins out of the discussion entirely, Mohan suggests either ignorance (he didn’t know about the Creative Arts Emmys?) or worse yet, dismissiveness. In Mohan’s opinion, is Randy Rainbow not an authentic Emmy nominee? Do Creative Arts Emmys not “count” for some reason? If winning a Primetime Emmy would be such a milestone moment for YouTubers and the platform, isn’t winning a Creative Arts Emmy worth at least some acknowledgment?

Award shows, at least in theory, are about honoring quality. Not just giving the people who made the most popular shows an excuse to dress up and talk to reporters about them on a red carpet. But to reward the actual BEST, most resonant, most artistically accomplished content that was produced over the past year.

Clearly, Mohan has something in mind beyond simply affirming that some YouTube videos are just as good as shows made for broadcast television. Or celebrating the thrill of an internet creator putting on a tux and rubbing shoulders with the cast of “The Bear.” Exciting though that would be. The deeper point he’s really making is that YouTube is just as significant and relevant as a traditional Hollywood media company (and its ad rates should reflect that fact).

Hence, his column doesn’t speak to the diversity of content you’d find on YouTube. Its level of creativity and technical polish. Its artistry. Or its cultural relevance. Instead, Mohan talks mostly about views. After Conan O’Brien guested on “Hot Ones,” he spoke frequently – even on his own podcast – about his respect for host Sean Evans’ interviewing skills. Mohan makes the case that “Hot Ones” is award-worthy, but you wouldn’t even know if he’s seen an episode based on the column. He just notes that it has “three billion views” and big “celebrity guests,” then moves on.

He praises YouTube Shorts creators for… sometimes also making longer videos. He singles out actor, personality, daredevil, and former pro cyclist Michelle Khare for… shooting her videos in 4K. Oh, and also getting 640 million views. 

Then there are two tone-deaf paragraphs in which Mohan declares that the world is “enter[ing] a new era driven by AI.” And goes on to praise creators like karenxcheng and Corridor Crew for utilizing this new technology. Is he saying that should make them eligible for Best Directing in a Drama Series? Who knows? The whole piece has sort of skipped the rails by this point… Everyone in tech just wants to mention that they also have an exciting AI thing in development.

Mohan absolutely has some practical, financial reasons for hoping that YouTube starts winning Emmys. He could start charging higher rates for advertisers on Primetime Emmy-nominated content. And it’d make a great line item on the agenda for next quarter’s earnings call with investors. 

But though YouTube is already home to a vast array of wonderful, award-worthy content, for now, these are empty words. The platform itself could and should be doing a much better job at fostering and supporting the kinds of creators and productions that would likely earn Emmy recognition.

YouTube’s current algorithm puts all kinds of external pressures on creators to make certain kinds of content, on a relatively set schedule. Ever since the platform has leaned away from a subscription-based model and into more algorithmic recommendations, creators who want to vary their videos in terms of tone, topic, length, visual design and aesthetic face an uphill battle before they even start posting videos. 

The aggressive, difficult-to-predict and manage copyright enforcement and monetization system also complicates life for creators. The result is a “chilling effect” that discourages them from making certain kinds of videos and prevents them from earning a consistent income that would fund larger-scale future productions.

For these reasons and more, established brands like Rooster Teeth and College Humor/Dropout and Watcher Entertainment have been disappearing or bailing on YouTube (or at least attempting to) for outside streaming services en masse. These are the exact kinds of established brands and experienced teams that routinely turn out potentially Emmy-worthy YouTube content. 

Under Mohan’s watch, they’re not exactly getting the support they need to excel and grow and thrive and produce content that gets mainstream attention, such that it would have a shot at an Emmy Award. They’re actively exiting the platform for greener pastures. As he told us in last week’s column, Steve Zaragoza hesitates to re-enter YouTube at all, despite having a current follower base of over 100,000 people, preferring to stick with his more reliable and easy-to-manage podcast.

So, what are we even talking about here?

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