YouTube's new "Primetime Channels" put millions of streamers in direct competition with cable TV

The invisible wall between premium cable TV and YouTube personalities is finally coming down
YouTube's new "Primetime Channels" put millions of streamers in direct competition with cable TV
Photo: Dado Ruvic (Reuters)
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The next time you’re scrolling through YouTube in the US, you’re as likely to stumble across a prank video from a leading influencer, as your favorite cable TV show.

YouTube’s new feature Primetime Channels allows regular YouTube viewers to subscribe to as many as 34 cable television channels including Showtime, Paramount+, AMC+, and Starz. Users can pick and choose channels (subscription pricing will vary by channel) without subscribing to the YouTube TV bundle, a $65 monthly package such that offers more than 100 channels. For now, access to the feature is limited to US-based users.

The move pits successful independent YouTube channels against premium content from Hollywood’s major studios. YouTube is where teens on social media watch the most video, eclipsing even TikTok. So Hollywood’s challenge will be to lure Gen Z audiences away from YouTube influencers with its own video content.

YouTube’s timing is perfect—for cable TV networks

Viewers will now be seeing some premium cable TV content through YouTube’s main interface rather than its paid access YouTube TV subscription environment. Previously, some television and film studios might have balked at mixing high-quality studio show with user-generated content. But in the global race to secure viewers, YouTube’s 2 billion monthly free users have proved impossible to ignore.

YouTube is framing the new offering as a better way to present user-generated content related to (or complementing) Hollywood’s premium content. Now, YouTube’s algorithms will aggregate independent TV and movie reviews alongside their Hollywood counterparts, allowing viewers to jump straight from these reviews to the show itself—no YouTube TV subscription needed—rather than hopping been different streaming platforms.

YouTubers are competing for cash, not traditional TV clout

YouTube creators may welcome the perceived status boost that comes with being featured next to premium cable TV content, but their audiences already dwarf many of the most popular TV shows.

One of YouTube’s most successful creators, MrBeast, has 109 million subscribers, and a comparable number of viewers for most of his videos. By contrast, the season finale for Showtime’s critically acclaimed series Yellowjackets attracted just 1.5 million viewers this year. The money has followed these big audiences. YouTube creators are earning as much as $55,000 per month, and one report claims MrBeast earned $54 million in 2021 alone.

So far, YouTube hosts roughly 15 million content creators who post about 500 hours of content to the site every hour. As YouTube attracts more user-generated and cable TV content, those numbers are likely to increase.