YouTube may be giving up on getting people to pay for its TV shows

Maybe more people will give shows like “Cobra Kai” a shot when they’re free.
Maybe more people will give shows like “Cobra Kai” a shot when they’re free.
Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
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How do you get people to pay for TV shows and movies on a social network where content is otherwise free? Maybe you don’t.

YouTube has been trying to sell people on a subscription version of its video service by offering scripted original series and movies that can’t be found elsewhere, such as Origin and Cobra Kai, for a few years. Now, the Google-owned company says it will start making that original content available for free, with ads, to expose it to a wider audience, starting in 2019. YouTube is available in most of the world (except countries where it is censored or blocked), while its subscription service is currently available in 29 countries.

A spokesperson for YouTube said in a statement:

We will continue to invest in scripted programming and shift to make our YouTube Originals ad supported to meet the growing demand of a more global fanbase. This next phase of our Originals strategy will expand the audience of our YouTube Original creators, and provide advertisers with incredible content that reaches the YouTube Generation.

The company will create a slate of original shows—which it calls a “Single Slate” strategy—that will be available across its ad-supported and subscription-video service, which will enable  subscribers to avoid the ads. By 2020, all YouTube original series and movies will be available to YouTube users for free, as well as to Premium subscribers. People who pay for the $12-per-month YouTube Premium subscription each month will get early access to that same content, ad free, Variety reported.

YouTube is one of the world’s largest video platforms with 1.9 billion users logging in per month as of July this year. Since 2015, it has been releasing premium TV shows and movies through a $10 monthly subscription, formerly known as YouTube Red. In May, it renamed the platform YouTube Premium. Besides the original content, the subscription service also includes ad-free versions of the cat videos and vlogs typically found on YouTube, and music streaming, like you’d find on Spotify. It upped the price of the platform to $12 per month, at the same time, alongside the launch of a standalone subscription for music streaming, called YouTube Music, for $10 per month.

Google has not revealed how many subscribers YouTube Music or YouTube Premium have. But the shift to make the scripted content free could signal that YouTube’s original programming, which the major subscription-video services like Netflix and Amazon also offer, isn’t the main selling point for any current YouTube Premium members. They may be more drawn to other perks, like avoiding annoying ads or music streaming.

Making YouTube’s original series and movies available to global audience could also help the company lure more TV and film talent. Creators want their work to be seen, and a global audience of 1.9 billion monthly users is a lot more attractive than an unknown audience of Premium users.