While it would take you a million lifetimes to watch all the video on YouTube, the company relies on contributions from its amateur and professional partners to keep its content fresh. At the same time, its core business model revolves around providing advertisers with the ability to reach its billion-plus viewers. In turn, video creators rely (or want to rely) on a piece of that ad revenue to continue producing their content. The problem is, of course, that those ads are intrusive, annoying and, at the end of the day, its partners are finding that the revenue from those banners and clips isn’t growing nearly as fast as, say, the number of cat videos on YouTube.
In an effort to provide its partners with an alternative revenue stream, YouTube announced today that it is officially launching a pilot program that enables its video stars to charge subscription fees for access to their channels. Subscriptions will start at $0.99/month, and every channel will be able to offer a 14-day free trial, along with discounted yearly rates.
In its announcement, YouTube cites Sesame Street, which will offer full episodes through its paid channel, and UFC offering fans the ability to watch classic fights as examples. For more, here’s the list of its 53-odd pilot channels.
As of today, users can subscribe to paid channels from their desktops and laptops and watch across devices, but going forward YouTube will look to add the ability to subscribe from any medium/device. On top of that, YouTube will begin a broader roll out of subscriptions in the next few weeks for “qualifying partners,” and from the looks of it, it will be adding a paid channel recommendation feed — just as it does now for free channels.
If you don’t have a YouTube channel, why should you care? Well, YouTube has been telegraphing this for awhile, but it’s really the first (official) sign that YouTube is beginning to tiptoe into the paid video market. Granted, the subscription model isn’t a new idea for YouTube, considering the company just announced in March that it will be launching a music subscription service later this year.
The goal is much the same: Give musicians/artists/creators an opportunity to make some money, while improving the user experience for listeners by potentially removing some of those obnoxious ads that start every video. Of course, in the case of both video and music, it’s much more likely that YouTube is going to stick with both.
Amateur content creators are going to be hesitant about erecting paywalls around their content. Most viewers are going to balk at the idea of buying a subscription to a YouTube channel, and there’s a question of whether or not they’d really be able to convert enough of their viewers to paid subscriptions to make it worth it. In the end, it’s the same issue newspapers and publishers have struggled with for years.
There’s also the fact that every video producer is already offering their content for free, although behind ads. Now you’re going to tell viewers that they have to pay for the same content they’ve been getting for free? Sure, that will work for your superfans, but as is the way with the “freemium” model, if you’re going to charge, the content behind the paywall better be, well, premium. I want to see “Extras,” exclusive content/footage, and so on.