YouTube Red: Should You Pay for It?

YouTube announced that they will be rolling out a paid YouTube service next week on October 28 called YouTube Red. After years of giving it all away for free, they’re finally asking for a little out of their customers’ pockets.

The cost

At $9.99 per month (or $12.99 if you subscribe from within the iOS app), you’re actually getting a lot of bang for your buck. The biggest incentive, especially for those who spend a lot of time on the site, is the complete removal of ads. That’s right, no ads will ever play in front of your videos. You also get access to Google’s entire streaming music service which is predictably called Google Play Music. And finally, you get access to exclusive video content that will be created by major YouTube stars including PewDiePie, the Fine Brothers, Rooster Teeth, and a half dozen other creators.

Interestingly, if you already have a Play Music account, you will transparently be upgraded to the new plan, which is a pretty sweet deal and may draw people to Google’s music service. You’re paying $10/month no matter where you go for streaming music, so why not use the one that also strips all the ads out of YouTube?

I think that YouTube, like the internet in general, has a very strong “this should all be free” mentality, so I’m sure there will be resistance to pay. I’m also sure that YouTube will have their hands full attempting to prevent their premium shows from getting uploaded to regular YouTube channels. It will be a battle, but like I said, the value is there, especially if you are interested in a streaming music service as well.

Original programming

Most of the criticism I’ve seen online so far about YouTube Red is with the original programming they have planned. The original shows look…well, they look like nothing I would ever want to watch, but they may appeal to fans of those creators. I’m 29 and I just don’t “get” PewDiePie. I’ve watched his videos and they don’t click with me. But there are 40 million people who disagree with me and subscribe to his channel, so I think he’ll be fine. The same goes for all the channels they have announced are developing new shows. I don’t really care about them, but millions and millions of people do.

That said, I do suspect that this first batch of shows will be a flop. I worry that YouTube doesn’t have the experience producing content to make sure these are great. It sounds like these shows will be different than most of the videos you watch on YouTube today; they’ll be longer and likely less frequently posted (most successful channels currently post daily). And again, I think piracy is a big concern and they will have their hands keeping this exclusive content behind the paywall.

I suspect that YouTube will learn a lot with these first shows and follow them up with better shows next year and even better ones after that. We can’t all be Netflix who knocked it out of the park with their first original show (House of Cards). I would look to Hulu who has been producing original shows since 2011, but just now has gotten some really good shows such as The Mindy Project and Casual. Give YouTube Red some time and they’ll figure out what works for their platform and their audience.

I also think it’s weird that the service is launching without any of these shows ready to go. The ad-free thing is nice, but I think it would have been a stronger sell if they had some popular YouTuber’s show behind the paywall to entice people to jump in right away.

The little things

You also get a couple nice features thrown into YouTube’s mobile apps if you pay for Red. The big one is the ability to download videos to your device to watch when offline (or if you just don’t want to deal with buffering on a slow connection). This was previously only possible in certain third party apps but not in the official app.

You also will get the ability to play videos as audio in the background if you leave the YouTube app to do something else on your phone/tablet. This is a most-welcome change, although it still doesn’t look like iOS 9’s picture-in-picture mode will be supported. Grrrr…

Am I getting it?

I’m probably not going to pay for YouTube Red. The ads on YouTube honestly don’t bother me that much, and the additional features added to the YouTube app would be nice, but I wouldn’t use them enough to justify the cost. I also have no interest in the original shows they are producing right now. Finally, I am all in on Apple Music, so the prospect of switching music services again sounds like a giant pain.

Pretty damning, huh?

But here’s the thing: I do think that I will end up paying for Red sometime in the next 12-24 months. I have faith the original content will get better and the draw of an ad-free YouTube will eventually be something I want. The real question is how many people are going to go in on this in the early days? With the original content still months away, I doubt this will blow up right away. Over the long term though, I think it has more than a fair chance of being a big deal. Netflix is the king of online paid video, but if anyone can catch them it’s YouTube. We’ll just have to see if they can maneuver the service through some growing pains and make it something great.