The line between traditional, paid advertising and organic editorial content on the Internet can sometimes be hazy. A recent stealth promotional campaign between Microsoft and Machinima highlights just how hazy that line has become, and how behind-the-scenes payments can drive ostensibly independent opinion-mongering on by users on services like 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.