The pay version of YouTube, called YouTube Red, may be getting the traction Google would hope for. According to TechCrunch, the iOS app for Red, which is just starting to actually charge users after a free introductory month, is among the App Store’s top ten grossing downloads, which sounds pretty up, up and away successful.
But then again, this is YouTube. Enormously ubiquitous YouTube. Really, those numbers sound piddly.
The TechCrunch story says YouTubeRed ranked eighth on the iOS app purchase list over the weekend, immediately behind a couple Candy Crush game apps and a Madden NFL game. It moved up to sixth by Monday. Android users have given it a cooler reception. It’s not a top grossing app on Google Play which might be because many Android users already get YouTube Red by virtue of their subscription Google Play Music, which kicks in YouTube Red as part of the deal.
For YouTube, which talks in billions, that’s pretty small potatoes, it would seem, which is why a Wall Street Journal report makes a lot of sense.
The paper reports YouTube is angling to become a competitor for Netflix by making Hollywood deals for programming that would live on YouTube Red. That sounds enormously more sensible than just charging YouTube Red users money mainly for stuff they otherwise can see for free (with ads) on YouTube Plain.
With YouTube’s peculiar brand strength, you immediately recognize that a YouTubeRed pay service with access to a library of films and TV shows--and more significantly, Netflix-like original programming-- could be a huge hit.
Fortune.com does the numbers. when after reminding readers that more people 18-34 watch YouTube than any cable network, it notes, “That Trojan horse has been filling up with soldiers since long before YouTube Red came along. So now we have YouTube—backed by parent company Alphabet, which has a market value of about $500 billion—reportedly bidding to stream TV shows and movies.”
It’s about time.
Indeed, a column in The New York Times today about the sparkless reign of Marissa Mayer at Yahoo quotes Robert S. Peck, an analyst for SunTrust Robinson Humphrey. He tells columnist Farhad Manjoo, “One transformational thing that she could have done was buy Netflix” shortly after Mayer arrived at Yahoo in 2012 and Netflix was still affordable enough. Or she could have started a competitor.
That ship has sailed for Yahoo, but for Google and YouTube, it might be now or never. All the second guessing from the networks and studios about whether or not to license off-network shows to Netflix and others (including their own home-grown Hulu) suggests that sooner than later everybody with the means to produce content will start doing it directly, not through an intermediary. That will create its own messes, too.