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A Subscription For YouTube? Are You Buying It?

Would you pay to watch YouTube? The answer, probably, is yes. Or maybe it’s, “Depends…”

Either way, the idea of paying to watch YouTube has always been a good idea, it seems, especially for people who don’t work for Google or YouTube.

With 1 billion unique views a month, worldwide, and 100 hours of content uploaded every minute--loosely defined content, for sure--there’s the idea that even a small percentage of paying viewers would constitute a fortune. On the other hand, eMarketer estimates that YouTube ads will bring in $5.6 billion this year. It already has a fortune.

But fortunes need fine-tuning, maybe.

And with YouTube’s multi-channel network stars occasionally making noise about bolting, or just doing it, creating a paid-for kingdom of content might look alluring.

The subject came up again Monday at a Re/Code conference, when CEO Susan Wojcicki disclosed that YouTube is exploring a subscription service, and one of the models--obviously---would be a commercial-free YouTube. “YouTube right now is ad-supported,which is great because it has enabled us to scale to a billion users; but there are going to be cases where people are going to say, 'I don’t want to see the ads, or I want to have a different experience’,” Wojcicki told Peter Kafka and Liz Gannes. 

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She later described an either/or option viewers might be able to choose. 

But even the glimmer of an ad-free portion of YouTube might be good news for premium video sites that could see some advertisers move to their sites. In a still growing, and fracturing online video atmosphere, it seems wild success and abject failure are still very close calls.

For a long time, it’s been rumored that YouTube might turn a big portion of its music video business into a separate and free-standing pay service.  That music video channel idea took hold earlier this year.

The tea-leaf readers are out there.

Said Endgadget, “While she didn't get into specifics on the program, which may or may not be called Music Key (according to rumors, that is), she stated that one of the obstacles is figuring out ‘how to give people options’ -- likely a way of saying that YouTube is still working out the pricing tiers and what features would be available for each individual plan. And given that the service will supposedly include concert footage and other videos, it may be a bit more complex than what competitors like Spotify offer. It's not clear when exactly we'll see this service ready for the public, but this is at least a solid indication that it didn't just completely vanish, never to be enjoyed by our eyes and ears.”

PCWorld also ran through some of the previously mentioned options: “YouTube has been trying for years to bring in more non-ad revenue. In addition to the rumored music service, YouTube has dabbled in movie rentals, pay-per-view live streams and paywalls for individual channels,” wrote Jared Newman. “A rumor last year even claimed YouTube was talkling to the NFL about showing out-of-market football games. But in the end, YouTube's easiest path to ad-free revenue may also be the most obvious. The challenge will be to get the price right, so viewers are interested and creators are still fairly compensated.”

Whatever they might do--what I’ve heard countless content creator types theorize over the last couple years --just could be a logical separating of the video wheat from the video chaff. There’s a wide, existing audience for the peculiar YouTube videos that give it its less-glam but For The People reputation, and YouTube could keep that sight free, while trying to find a subscription option for other wide swaths of its content. Whether that’s practical is another mattter.

But even the glimmer of an ad-free portion of YouTube might be good news for premium video sites that could see some advertisers move to their sites; in a still growing, and fracturing online video atmosphere, it seems wild success and abject failure are still very close calls.

pj@mediapost.com
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