Steven Crowder versus Big Conservative Media?

With his January 17, 2023 video "It's time to stop," Steven Crowder, host and owner of the biggest conservative channel on YouTube, an equally impressive channel on Rumble, and the website Louder with Crowder, spent 28 minutes airing his concerns that conservative media entities are overly helpful to Big Tech control of speech and questioning the effects such business arrangements have on the culture and the country.  Crowder described terms offered to him by an unnamed big conservative media company.  I immediately thought of bad music industry contracts.  Referring to conservative corporations that use contracts to enforce cancel culture as "Big Con," Crowder ended by requesting that viewers enter their email addresses at the website, to gauge public interest in the issue.

Several bad clauses immediately stood out — for example, penalties up to 20% if a video was demonetized or removed on platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Apple, and Spotify, or if sponsors dropped his show.  Crowder's social media, merchandise, and subscription profits go to the company, with no bonuses for exceeding benchmarks.  Crowder's existing videos would move behind the company's paywall.  There was a flat dollar amount for a four-year term (that could be extended at the pleasure of the company).  There would be at least four ad reads per episode.  Crowder found the terms so awful that he didn't even redline the offer.  He just told the company to send something better.

Crowder called the penalties for going afoul of the vague, ever-changing sensitivities of Big Tech a roadmap for suppressing certain conservatives or content.  It's particularly unsuitable for Crowder, whose show YouTube has demonetized for years.  Meanwhile, Crowder's profits came from Mug Club subscriptions, a few loyal sponsors, and merchandise.  He employs approximately 25 people, producing frequently expensive skits and traveling features like "Change My Mind."

Crowder's video ended with a plea that those who sent the offer reach out to him, to make a way forward that would not handcuff future young conservative talent.

Jeremy Boreing of the Daily Wire quickly posted an hour-long response, focused on the terms being part of an initial offer and claiming that they'd negotiate changes to the number of episodes per year and the amount of fines.  He emphasized the $50 million offered, multiple times.  Boreing has portrayed Crowder as unbusinesslike.  But he also copied Crowder's model: some content free on YouTube, controversial content for subscribers.

Videos were soon posted by several Daily Wire personalities and content creators, including  Lauren Chen, Tim Poole, Shad of Shadiversity/Knight's Watch, Nick Rekeita, Robert Barnes, Megyn Kelly, and Jeremy Hambly of the Quartering.

Crowder's next video was "I didn't want to do this...," featuring portions of a phone call with Boreing, who dismisses the conservative movement being able to make profits while decoupled from restrictive Big Tech.  Boreing says that personalities who sign with D.W. (he says they can be "wage slaves" for a few years) would leave D.W. with their fame and able to make new content, while D.W. owns "part of them," and terms that overwhelmingly favor D.W. are "just business."

Crowder emphasizes that he's not talking about himself.  He's talking about cultivating upcoming creators and not bending to Big Tech's whims.  He gives his word that Mug Club will never take ownership of a creator's social media platforms or any YouTube monetization.  He makes one final plea to D.W.: if they promise that future contracts will exclude penalties for actions of platforms or advertisers, this all stops.

While the D.W. personalities have made personal attacks on him, Crowder only compliments on the intelligence of Andrew Klavan and Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson's massive positive influence.  Ben Shapiro and Jeremy Boreing both have taken positions of "it's all business" and "what a backstabber, recording a friend."  Several people, including attorney Robert Barnes, say a friend would never send a friend a contract with so many egregious clauses, and in this situation, he would recommend recording calls.

Crowder appeared on Tim Pool's January 23rd show, fleshing out motives and strategies for opposition to Big Tech.  With serious heart problems, Crowder wants to go from performing to producing and help new creators and free speech to flourish.

That night, attorneys Nick Rekeita and Robert Barnes posted a discussion.  Barnes said the D.W. contract was the worst contract he had ever seen.  According to Barnes, the terms could have left Crowder owing D.W. money and having to provide content, even if the YouTube demonetization or the loss of one or more sponsors didn't lose D.W. any money.  Also, there were no terms offered that would give Crowder more money if merchandise, advertising, or subscriptions matched or exceeded certain goals.

Barnes had an interesting observation.  A signed contract means that the parties will have to cooperate and trust each other.  He said lawyers who view a contract as an instrument for extracting maximum benefit for one side are incompatible with the goal.  Barnes said he's often seen two business entities hash out an agreement, only to have the lawyers ruin it with clauses that extract maximum benefit for one side instead of looking to maximize both parties' profits and trust.  He also noted that the reactions by D.W. personalities who chose to speak might cause the public to be suspicious that they are restricted in their public remarks, as Crowder would have been had he accepted the offered terms.

Many defending D.W. emphasize that it was a terms sheet (proposal), not a contract, and changing clauses are why they have lawyers.  But the more clauses lawyers address, the more money it costs the parties.  D.W. defenders first emphasized that $50 million is huge money (ignoring that Crowder paying production costs of 192 episodes per year, for 4 years, amounts to $65,000 per episode, assuming that no platform or advertiser behavior triggers any penalty clause).  Their argument then shifted to "Crowder is bad to friends."

During my first viewing of Crowder's first video, I sensed that he is serious about what he hopes to achieve and that he has no idea how huge his effect on culture and business has the potential to be.  I thought of those among our Founding Fathers who went bankrupt in the fight for independence from not only the government of Britain, but also the corporations that had control of some of the colonies.  Their personal losses helped create a society in which freedom to vote with our exertions and our dollars generated centuries of economic activity that has not only lifted individuals all over the globe out of poverty, but contributed to reducing the percent of the planet's population that lives in poverty.

Crowder says he's not worried about money for himself; he is concerned about the conservative movement and the effects on our country if speech is controlled by people of one ideological position with assistance of those who claim to be opponents voluntarily inflicting financial punishments for deviating from vague and inconsistently enforced rules.  The best possible outcome is that social medial terms of service would come into alignment with the First Amendment.

Image: Steven Crowder via YouTube.

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