October seems to be the month to do things, doesn’t it? Not only is Batman: Arkham Knight re-launching for the PC, but YouTube is also planning to launch its new Red service on 28 October 2015, giving users the option of a “premium” experience while using the YouTube site and the mobile services on various devices. For $9.99 per month, which is on par with Netflix U.S. and Hulu’s ad-free subscription, you can get access to YouTube without advertising, with the option to listen to videos in the background with the YouTube mobile app, and the option to download videos for offline viewing later. Along with this is an included subscription to Youtube Music Key, which is currently in Beta, and Google Play Music, which is currently $7.99 per month on its own. So the question is, why would you want to use this service?
With the headlining benefits out of the way, what’s in it for you over those things that you might not use anyway? Well, the first part is access to content that YouTube wants to cordon off for Red subscribers only. This will include content that YouTube has curated with the help of YouTubers who have successful channels and a large enough subscriber base to pull a deal with YouTube to make content for Red. The launch list of content includes the following:
Scare PewDiePie: a reality-adventure series
Sing It!: a scripted comedy that lovingly satirizes the reality singing competitions
Single by 30: A romantic drama series
Fight of the Living Dead: famous YouTubers trapped in “a frighteningly realistic zombie apocalypse”
A Trip to Unicorn Island: feature-length movie gives fans a look inside the life and journey of Lilly Singh on a 26-city tour
YouTube’s aim with Red is not only to benefit users who hate adverts and currently block them, but to become a portal on the internet for video content that may have as much pull with subscribers as series like Hell on Wheels and DareDevil has on Netflix. They want to make video content that brings in more money for the service and if that means creating specialist stuff for Red to increase subscriber numbers, then so be it. Eventually, they might become the home of the web series, where you get to watch shows like React on the Fine Bros. channel, or PewDiePie screaming at things in videogames, in the same manner that you might settle in for the evening to catch up on Game of Thrones.
The second part of why you might want to sign up is that YouTube Red also opens up funding options for successful channels currently dealing with decreasing advertising revenue as a result of people using ad blockers. A significant portion of your $9.99 (55%, in fact) goes straight into the bank accounts of the YouTubers you support by watching their videos. How this is determined is based on viewing time – if you had to watch an hour of the Pewds playing a game, and then spend the next hour watching 15-minute videos from other channels, PewDiePie’s channel would get 50% of your contribution, with the remaining 50% shared between the other four channels.
This is a result of YouTube’s push into structured programming, forcing YouTubers to change their structure to either include multiple videos of shorter lengths, or less videos with a longer viewing time, to hopefully grab a larger share of your contribution. Its the whole reason why PewDiePie grew into the most successful channel in the first place – people were queuing up his videogame playthroughs and watching it for hours at a time, earning Felix Kjellberg millions of dollars a year in profit. Its a model that has shown success for others, and YouTube understandably now wants everyone to copy it.
However, your creator that you’re supporting needs to be in a country that is able to subscribe to YouTube Red. If you’re an American Red subscriber watching videos that might be created by a YouTuber in another country that doesn’t have Red available, he/she/they won’t get the Red contribution even though the agreement may have been already signed.
For content creators, what changes is that videos that didn’t earn enough money because adverts were blocked might become a little more profitable now if those people previously blocking adverts pay for the privilege to surf through the site’s content without them. In addition, channels that are in partnership with YouTube for the Red program need to have monetisation enabled on every video they make, because they otherwise won’t get money from Red contributions, and videos that are monetised on channels that haven’t signed the Red agreement will have their videos de-listed from the site. YouTube’s method of forcing their creators into the program is quite heavy-handed, and it’s expected that they will also start to clamp down on videos that are sponsored off-site, but not monetised through their service.
That may be taken multiple ways by creators, some of whom have withdrawn from the site following the announcement of the Red subscription. ESPN is one of those partners who have de-listed almost all their content, protesting against YouTube’s terms of service for the subscription. Many others will soon follow, or alternatively move to platforms which don’t try to strong-arm then into monetising their videos, like Vessel, or Twitch.
So, aside from ad-free viewing, background and offline playback, exclusive content you may or may not watch, and directly supporting your subscribed channels, is there anything else that might make the service compelling? Probably not. I think we’ll have to wait a bit longer for Google to find more ways to sweeten the deal. For now, don’t sign up unless you’re really keen on the idea of an ad-free Youtube for R140 per month.