December 9, 2015

See Red: YouTube Enters the Subscription Streaming Melee

Image courtesy of the author.

Image courtesy of the author.

Rumors have swirled, YouTube has been operating at a financial loss, and it eventually became clear to both content creators and the platform: something about YouTube has needed to give way. Change has seemingly arrived in the form of YouTube Red, a recently debuted $9.99/month subscription-based tier of service. Red provides users ad-free videos and additional premium content, as well as a host of other features (including the ability to save videos/playlists for offline playback, and background play on mobile).

It’s no secret that ad blocking can be detrimental to the livelihood of content creators, smaller ones in particular. The biggest YouTuber on the planet at the moment, livestreaming gamer PewDiePie, claimed in a blog post that “YouTube Red exist[s] largely as an effort to counter Adblock” and how “using Adblock has actual consequences.” While most of the major creators on the platform have sided with YouTube on this matter, issues and arguments persist: in response to YouTube requiring all content creators to participate in Red, ESPN pulled their entire library of video content from the platform.

The contemporary climate indicates a general movement towards what can only be described as a content quagmire: a situation where the expectations of free, high quality content are faced with the harsh reality of the increasingly unsustainable costs of production, marketing and compensation. Content, no matter how banal or trivial, has costs associated. And while the socially accepted implication is that it has historically been available for free, the reality of the current situation begs consideration.

YouTube Red possesses a unique opportunity to take the reins of — a cohesive, multimedia streaming platform that hosts both the content creators and consumers. One of the quiet additions to Red is the simultaneous access it provides to Google Play Music (and vice versa). Since Red can provide uninhibited access to video and music content, it’s anyone’s guess as to when Google will push the boundaries to potentially include more in-the-moment, live-streaming content (in an ideal world, live TV and sports spring to mind). The Wall Street Journal has reported that YouTube is already seeking to bolster the service by seeking the streaming rights to TV shows and movies. According to reports, YouTube is “using Google Play’s existing relationships with movie studios and other premium video content owners to negotiate streaming deals.”

The hurdle YouTube faces here is the fact that to gain any traction, enough people are going to need to support the service as-is. In a world of ad-blocked, “free” content, can YouTube pull ahead with the Red service? What does Red mean for the future of digital content platforms? Will it chase down Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, or will it create its own space in the crowding competitive landscape? Whether or not the next evolution of video content creation and consumption lies within Red’s subscription model, Google is offering a free month’s trial to help you make up your mind.