Using the YouTube APIs to Build Monetizable Applications

This document provides guidelines for using the YouTube APIs to build applications that make money. It discusses types of monetization opportunities that are typically associated with several different ways that users interact with online video – video creation, organization, discovery and playback.

Remember, the best way to make money using the YouTube APIs is to use your imagination. To be more specific, you should use your imagination to think of a new way to let people interact with videos and then build an actual (not imaginary) application that enables such interactions to take place. And, to be even more specific, your application should provide a service that people are willing to pay for or that presents advertising opportunities. However, those advertising opportunities should not violate the YouTube API Terms of Service ("API Terms of Service") available at as described in the following section. We can't wait to see what you build!

Disclaimer: The guidelines in this document do not constitute legal advice. Please use common sense and, if appropriate, consult with an attorney before launching your application.

Learning the rules

Before you start opening bank accounts to hold your forthcoming revenues, please review the API Terms of Service to ensure that your ideas don't involve a prohibited use of the YouTube APIs. We'd really, really like you to figure out how to make money with our APIs. However, there are also some things that you simply must not do.

Section III, paragraph 4 of the API Terms of Service provides the following explanation of prohibited commercial uses of the YouTube APIs:

You agree not to use the YouTube API for any of the following commercial uses unless You obtain YouTube's prior written approval:

  • the sale of the YouTube API, API Data, YouTube audiovisual content or related services, or access to any of the foregoing;
  • the sale of advertising, sponsorships, or promotions placed on or within the YouTube audiovisual content or player; or
  • the sale of advertising, sponsorships, or promotions on any page of the API Client containing YouTube audiovisual content, unless other content not obtained from YouTube appears on the same page and is of sufficient value to be the basis for such sales.

Of course, those are just the prohibited commercial uses. The Terms of Service defines other rules as well. For example, you can't distribute applications that violate any laws, including U.S. export laws. At the risk of repeating ourselves, it's imperative that you familiarize yourself with the API Terms of Service before building an application that uses the YouTube APIs.

Monetizing your application

The two most common strategies that companies use to monetize applications that use the YouTube API are showing ads on their websites and charging for the use of their applications. The following sections discuss these strategies in more detail.

Showing ads on your website

You can show ads on pages that display content retrieved from the API if certain conditions are met. For example, you can let users enter a search query (or retrieve a standard YouTube feed, such as top-rated or most recent videos) and show ads on the search results page.

However, you cannot run advertisements on pages that play our video content unless there is a significant amount of other important content on the page, meaning that users come to the page to access other content besides the video. In that limited case, you can run ads as long as those ads are targeted to the other content on the page and not to the video or video metadata. For example, if your page displays a video with a news article, blog entry or user profile information, then you can display ads on the page as long as the ads are targeted to the article, blog entry or user profile data.

If you are using AdSense for Content to automatically target ads to your page, use the section targeting feature to exclude the portion of the page that contains the video and its metadata.

Note: If the only reason people go to a page is to watch a video, you should not run ads on that page. If you don't know whether you can display ads on a page, consider whether you would still be able to sell the ad inventory if you removed the video and all references to the video from the page. If so, then you can probably display ads on the page.

Charging customers to use your application or service

You can also charge customers for using your application. However, please note that you cannot levy fees specifically for the ability to watch a video, upload a video or access any other API functionality.

For example, you could write an Android application that uses the YouTube API and then sell that application in the Google Play store. You could also sell a subscription for a service that repackages content available through the API, such as a service that looks at your friends activities on YouTube and highlights your shared interests.

With those examples in mind, the following business models are acceptable:

  • You can charge a subscription or one-time fee for users to have access to your entire site or application.
  • You can charge a subscription or one-time fee for access to premium features on your site, which may include YouTube-specific functionality.

If users must pay for access to your application, you must make it abundantly clear that the charges are levied by you and not by YouTube. This point is really critical. YouTube does not charge users for accessing YouTube site functionality through the YouTube APIs.

The message that states that you (and not YouTube) are charging the user should be prominently displayed on pages that contain information about your application and fees for using it. That message should also be displayed on the pages that the user sees when signing up and paying for use of your application.

Monetization opportunities for different types of user interactions

The following sections provide additional guidelines and offer examples of monetizable applications for different components of the overall user experience with online video:

Video creation

Video creation tools help users to make original videos to upload to YouTube. Tools could enable the users to create new video content or to create video mashups using their own original content.

You can monetize the video creation process by charging customers to use the application that creates the video content. One company that use this strategy is Animoto, which lets users upload photos and combine those photos with commercially licensed songs to create videos. Another product that uses this strategy is Spore, a game released by Electronic Arts (EA) and Maxis. Maxis integrated YouTube into the Spore Creature Creator, enabling a player to easily upload a video of his creation to a YouTube account.

During the video creation process, you could also display ads to help users find products or services relevant to their video content or to the video creation workflow.

Video organization and discovery

The YouTube API provides a number of ways for users to find and organize video content. Users can search for YouTube videos relevant to particular keywords, or they can browse videos by retrieving one of YouTube's standard feeds, such as top-rated or most recent videos. In addition, users can organize videos by adding them to playlists, creating subscriptions or marking videos as favorites.

While these capabilities are all available in the API, you can introduce other ways for users to discover videos or to organize videos into collections. For example, Dipity's TimeTube, which analyzes video metadata and presents videos on a timeline, uses an innovative method of displaying information to make it easier for users to find videos. Another way that you could enable users to organize videos would be to build a travel website that lets users create route maps and then upload videos that were filmed at sites along those routes. While the site would provide an innovative way for people to document their trips, it would also let prospective travelers browse the route maps to discover videos and plan their own trips.

You could monetize applications that let users organize videos by displaying ads on the pages where they organize videos or by charging for the ability to organize videos. You could monetize applications that let users discover videos by displaying ads on search results pages. In the case of the travel site example, pages that display videos could also incorporate and target ads to other information (not drawn from the video metadata) about points of interest on the route maps.

Video playback

As a reminder, you cannot require users to pay a fee just to watch a video. The most common way to monetize video playback pages is to display ads on those pages. However, please refer to the showing ads on your website section to review restrictions about when you can show ads on a video playback page.

In addition, please remember that attempting to play a YouTube video outside of either the YouTube embedded, custom or chromeless player is strictly prohibited by the API Terms of Service. For example, you cannot rip the Flash FLV file for YouTube videos.

Additional suggestions

Users interact with online video in a number of different ways. While developers frequently focus on monetizing pages that play videos, in truth the greatest opportunities for innovation (and making money) lie in other parts of the user experience – creation, organization and discovery.

The YouTube APIs let you incorporate many different types of YouTube functionality into your own website or application. However, while you could use the API to clone YouTube on your site, you won't create much value in doing so. To create a highly monetizable application, we recommend that you try to think of new, creative ways that people could interact with online videos.