It's a major milestone in YouTube's growth as a platform, coming in its 10th year and underlining the key areas where it has come to be influential. That influence shows in other ways too. The tech giant is taking on music's biggest players, not to mention video streaming services, by giving fans of its powerhouse video site a way to ditch ads.
After many months of speculation, YouTube has finally unveiled its premium subscription service: $9.99 a month for ad-free viewing and listening, offline caching and a raft of other features too.
With so much at stake, it's interesting that Google would pull its streaming ambitions into a single premium service. In an era when tech companies seem determined to unbundle their apps and services—Facebook and Messenger, or Dropbox and Carousel, not to mention others, like Twitter and Instagram—Google seems to have gone the other way.
The new service delivers ad-free streaming, offline viewing, exclusive shows, improved music features and Google's version of Spotify all for $9.99 a month. But after 10 years of free, ad-supported access, the real question is whether YouTube will be able to be able to persuade people to cough up money.
YouTube Red includes YouTube Music Key (now just YouTube Music), which continues to offer unlimited Google Play Music streaming. The site, which already offers TV shows and movies, will make exclusive shows and movies from the likes of star vlogger PewDiePie and CollegeHumor available in the paid service. Think of it like a Netflix for the YouTube generation, a young viewers who are already glued to the site—and might pay to see even more.
The existing YouTube isn't going anywhere, and will continue to operate much as it always has, and there's a risk that the majority of users will too.
It's a big bet for Google: Even with a billion YouTube users signed up, it needs to increase revenue to survive and fend off the growing challenge of Facebook in the video space. Executives in Mountain View seem to have decided that the best course is to bundle everything that makes YouTube great—from movies to music to PewDiePie—into one all-encompassing subscription.
There's no shortage of video on the web these days, with Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vimeo and others. Google itself also offers the official Movies & TV portal.
The relationship between it and YouTube is something of an ambiguous one—YouTube already rents movies and TV shows in some parts of the world, which would seem to duplicate what the dedicated Movies & TV apps do. But whatever the behind-the-scenes arrangements, it's not inconceivable to imagine the likes of HBO and Warner Bros one day agreeing to put their content behind YouTube Red's paywall.
Most recently, the site also began supporting 360-degree videos, in preparation for the virtual reality movement the tech industry expects.
Music And Movies, Together
Having Google Play Music All Access and the newly revamped YouTube Music
(which will apparently be "available soon") as almost a free extra to
YouTube Red could be a dealbreaker for many. Of course this isn't new:
YouTube Music Key launched almost a year ago, complete with Google Play
Music All Access, but now subscribers get YouTube Red thrown in as well.
For music, YouTube Red takes aim at Spotify, Apple Music, Rdio, Tidal and others. The way music and music videos have flourished on the site was a surprise at first, but makes perfect sense in retrospect: It offers almost any track on-demand, making it instantly available for free. With the site's popularity among music fans, it's no wonder record labels were keen to cash in.
YouTube wants the new app to improve the "lean-back" experience, so listeners can start a song and a related "radio mix" follows automatically.
As with the old plan, you can expect an ad-free ride and background listening on mobile, as well as offline video caching. Eagle-eyed YouTubers might have already noticed Google apparently auto-generating music videos from record label catalogs.
While YouTube might still be experimenting in some areas (such as 360-degree video), its core features are now strong enough to pack together and roll the dice on. Google's likely hoping it will be enough to edge the site into profitability, and gets more users into its ecosystem at the same time.
Users in the U.S. can try YouTube Red for a month for free from October 28. International availability is yet to be confirmed.