People tuning in to a San Jose City Council meeting on YouTube might be interrupted by advertisements — something city officials said goes against the video platform’s own guidelines.

Ads for website builders, grocery delivery, hotel booking sites and other products and services are dotted into the city’s public video recordings uploaded to the platform, including council, commission and committee meetings. But YouTube’s “standard practices” are to not place ads on government meeting videos, city officials said.

Following recent inquiries by San José Spotlight, the city requested YouTube pull the ads and the company said it would do so within two weeks.

Craig Jutson, San Jose’s broadcast engineering and operations manager, said the city is aware of the occasional ads, and they appear whether a user is logged into a Google account or not. The city does not receive any revenue from the ads, nor does it have any settings on its channel that would affect the ads YouTube might post on videos.

“(YouTube) confirmed that it is standard practice to remove ads on all civics channels, including government officials and entities, politicians, political committees, third-party advocacy organizations and members of the national media,” Jutson told San José Spotlight.

Most of the ads, which run as long as two minutes, can be skipped after five seconds. The ads only appear on recorded versions of meetings, not during livestreams. Occasionally, YouTube overlays an ad near the bottom of the screen for YouTube Premium, a service that charges users $14 a month to have ad-free experiences across all of YouTube.

This screenshot shows an ad for MasterClass seen on a recording of a Sept. 25, 2023 San Jose Community and Economic Development Committee meeting.

It’s unclear how long the company has been allowing the apparent violation of its own policy to continue.

San Jose has been livestreaming and uploading its meeting videos to YouTube for more than three years, in an effort to expand access to city business. Officials say it’s a valuable fail-safe if the city’s other video hosting service, Granicus, has any issues. YouTube also allows videos to be recorded and streamed in high definition.

Platforms like YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, and Facebook make billions of dollars in revenue from advertising they display across all their platforms worldwide.

As of Sept. 28 afternoon, ads were still visible on the city’s videos on YouTube.

Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But ‘it’s the norm’

Advertising experts say the ads are not a big deal, especially in the age of prolific digital media.

“No harm whatsoever, it’s the norm,” Tim Hendrick, an associate professor of advertising at San Jose State University, told San José Spotlight. “The public has gotten jaded to just accepting there are going to be ads on any form of video, pretty much.”

Hendrick said the city’s aim is to make sure its messaging is reaching as many people as possible to inform residents and cover the city from potential complaints it is keeping decisions out of public view.

Eric Goldman, a law professor and co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law, said YouTube is a helpful tool to meet goals of expanding access.

“Publishing video on a site like YouTube makes it more broadly available,” Goldman told San José Spotlight. “And because YouTube is generally user friendly, it’s actually a really good experience for the people watching it, putting aside the annoyance of the advertising.”

Goldman noted YouTube also provides the city another avenue to store and host its videos free of charge.

“Advertising is life. It’s what we live with. ... We’ve always lived with it. It’s going to be that way and it’s not going to change.”

Tim Hendrick, associate professor of advertising at San Jose State University

The city currently pays Granicus about $72,000 annually for a suite of software and web streaming services, including video hosting, agenda management and civic engagement tools, Jutson said. About $21,500 of that annual cost is directly attributed to video streaming and hosting.

The city also simulcasts its livestreams on area cable television to Comcast customers, Jutson said.

Hendrick said the ads that appear on city videos are likely slotted in automatically under algorithms that control distribution of untold millions of ads accompanying YouTube content and other videos on the internet.

“Advertising is life. It’s what we live with,” Hendrick said. “We’ve always lived with it. It’s going to be that way and it’s not going to change.”

Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on X, formerly known as Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San José Spotlight.