Microsoft Paying For Positive Xbox One Reviews On YouTube

I’m old enough to remember the payola scandals that plagued the music industry for years. Now it seems we have something similar in the highly competitive video game industry with news that Microsoft is paying for positive Xbox One reviews on YouTube:

This weekend, word started leaking of a new promotion offering Machinima video partners an additional $3 CPM (i.e., $3 per thousand video views) for posting videos featuring Xbox One content. The promotion was advertised by Machinima’s UK community manager in a since-deleted tweet, and it also appears on Machinima’s activity feed on Poptent, a clearinghouse for these kind of video marketing campaigns. The Poptent page also mentions an earlier campaign surrounding the Xbox One’s launch in November, which offered an additional $1 CPM for videos “promoting the Xbox One and its release games.”

To qualify for the campaign (and the extra payments), Machinima partners had to post a video including at least 30 seconds of Xbox One game footage that mentioned the Xbox One by name and included the tag “XB1M13.” A YouTube search for that relatively unique term turns up “about 6,590 results,” but a quick scan of those results shows only a few hundred that actually seem to be tagged for the Machinima promotion.

What’s worse is that by doing this, it requires the reviewer to not disclose they’ve been paid:

According to a leaked copy of the full legal agreement behind the promotion, video creators “may not say anything negative or disparaging about Machinima, Xbox One, or any of its Games” and must keep the details of the promotional agreement confidential in order to qualify for payment. In other words, to get the money, video makers have to speak positively (or at least neutrally) about the Xbox One, and they can’t say they’re being paid to do so.

All of that really sounds sketchy at best. At worst it’s illegal as the Federal Trade Commission has rules about this sort of thing:

The arrangement as described might go against the FTC’s guidelines for the use of endorsements in advertising, which demand full disclosure when there is “a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement.” The document offers a specific example of a video game blogger who gets a free game system that he later talks about on his blog. That blogger would need to disclose that gift, the FTC says, because his opinion is “disseminated via a form of consumer-generated media in which his relationship to the advertiser is not inherently obvious.” That same reasoning would seem to apply to the opinions expressed by the video makers participating in this promotion.

I hope for their sake they have a very good explanation for this because right now it sounds like they have gotten themselves in a whole heap of trouble.

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