Commentary

Maybe YouTube Is Just Good For Nothing

If suddenly there were pay water fountains, how do you think you’d react? I’d bet, not positively. Though you can package water and give it a brand name and then sell it for more than a buck per bottle, that which is free--like water from a cooler--is probably going to stay that way.

That’s why, whatever YouTube does with its pay version, it’s facing a battle for subscribers, and the the later it waits to get started the more problematic it will be. Even given YouTube’s size, stature and history in the online video business, asking people to pay for something they’re used to getting for free is bad news. Maybe it ought to have called it something else, but you can also see what’s crazy about that suggestion. What business plan would advise YouTube to walk away from that brand name?

It seems harsh to say, but YouTube is good, for nothing. Paying for it gives a consumer, especially a young one, the opportunity to pause and ask, “For what?” Even if YouTube users now stay connected to it for more than a half hour at a time, part of that time spent must be because the “cost” is what some of it is worth.

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Variety’s Todd Spangler also wonders about the pay YouTube. It’s alienated some creators who have been given an either-or from YouTube to put their wares on the pay version or lose their position on the free version where they make surer money off of commercials. It’s also not enticed most major networks that YouTube supposed would like the “found” new revenue from their split of the pay YouTube exposure.

And also Variety notes, for its enormous size, YouTube does not have any kind of track record as a program creator. It's just a pipe. Evian is special. Water comes out of a tap. YouTube is the pipe for that water.

It’s hard to bet against YouTube. It could be just a little bit successful at first, and that will still look mighty good. YouTube has one billion active users every month. So getting only a fraction of them to sign up for the pay version is well, rather spectacular. But it also invites the curious to shop around a bit more. If you’re thinking about paying for YouTube, maybe you should check out Vessel before you whip out the credit card. In the end, free is very hard to beat, and in the end, it's hard to leave.

pj@mediapost.com

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