Plans to introduce YouTube paid video subscriptions are being discussed. Despite getting billions of hits every day, Google has struggled to make the site profitable, and now appears to be considering making YouTube paid, as subscription-model rivals Netflix and Lovefilm gather strength. Some commentators claim they won’t pay YouTube for video content that used to be free. But ClickThrough’s head of content, Alistair Harris, says he’d happily stump up if it means round-the-clock access to Maru…
We don’t have a telly in our house. Well, we do: but it doesn’t air live broadcasts. It’s plugged into the Xbox. It doesn’t have an aerial, and we don’t have cable, satellite or freeview.
In the corner of our living room sits an eight-year-old Mac: a once proud innovation in design, now barely capable of loading without splutter. The TV generally gathers dust, glowing only intermittently when we’re bored enough to fire up Halo or Peggle.
But really, the Mac is our entertainment hub.
And our channel of choice is YouTube.
Despite the inherently shaky nature of its content, and grainy, pixelated blur, YouTube pumps videos into our living room for an average of four hours a night. For free.
Is the world’s largest video sharing site about to start charging viewers? And soon? And if YouTube paid videos are introduced, will anyone cough up for them?
Well, I will.
YouTube paid video subscriptions are surely a good thing?
From Pomplamoose’s video songs, to highly amusing shreds videos of Kiss or Kings of Leon, from monthly Win and Fails compilations, to videos of cats in cardboard boxes, YouTube boasts everything you’d expect from normal TV, with an added lifetime's worth of out-takes and extras.
Whilst YouTube can be hit and miss, its cast of countless characters caters for all cultures.
It’s an unpredictable approach to entertainment. But because we’re not tied down to TV schedules or the programming choices of Londonite executives, my housemates and I have seen excellent videos we may never have considered watching, applauded cute amateur attempts to recreate favourite film scenes, and learned things we may otherwise have never learned.
Now, not every YouTube video is amazing. In fact, YouTube seems to follow the 80/20 rule: around one-fifth of its content is hilarious, thought-provoking or informative, and the rest is idiots opening Justin Bieber CDs, spoilt children crying about first-world problems, people falling over, and badly-shot UFO footage.
Really, YouTube isn’t much different to ITV, or the BBC. But its sheer scope means YouTube exceeds the UK’s mainstream channels in both breadth of content, and viewer choice.
ITV is full of unskippable adverts, Simon Cowell shows and product placements. And the BBC has to cater for so many age groups and tastes, its programmes are, in the main, homogenously unsatisfying.
In the UK, the BBC receives funding from the TV licence fee, meaning it has to produce mainstream programmes or face backlash from the press for being too niche. ITV and Channel Four use adverts to pay for their programming, and advertisers want shows that attract the most people possible.
Conversely, people don’t like having to watch five minutes of shouting self-promotion for the sake of 25 minutes of entertainment. The success of commercial TV has always been down to a lack of alternative channels that don’t shove bad ads down your throat at any given opportunity.
YouTube is now essentially that alternative.
Of course, YouTube has ads – but in most cases, you can close them or skip them. Sticking ‘ad breaks’ into YouTube videos was never a real option: the instant, gimme-gimme demand of the Internet populace would mean viewers clicked away in their droves at the slightest hint of an advertising jingle.
Yet despite new content being uploaded very minute, and YouTube as a site getting bazillions of viewers every day, owners Google have struggled to make it profitable.
The genetically amateur backbone – YouTube as a name implies it’s “you” on the telly – has somewhat limited YouTube’s scope for growth, as its popularity has hinged on user-created content.
User-created content wasn’t a staple of traditional telly. In fact, in the past, candid camera programmes like You’ve Been Framed paid viewers to send in their funny home videos: viewers didn’t pay to watch them.
YouTube essentially provides an unedited edifice full of hilarious home videos once destined for the ITV show – it’s an overflowing stockroom of product, hitherto about as commercially viable as Lisa Riley’s humongous bottom.
Viewer demand is a funny thing: YouTube is by far the most popular place to see TV-style stuff online – but is that only because it’s free?
Will YouTube paid videos work or is it popular because it's free?
Hello, Lovefilm! Hello, Netflix!
Suddenly, YouTube has competitors which charge viewers to watch videos, and they make money out of it. And lots of it.
In the case of Netflix, for instance, there’s the enticing lure of channel-exclusive content, with Kevin Spacey’s engaging House of Cards forming a Netflix-exclusive impetus to sign up for a monthly subscription.
We’ve got Netflix. And Lovefilm too. And we watch both. Occasionally.
But round ours, YouTube is the constant: essentially an always-on search engine, ready to yield a semi-amusing distraction from the banality of everyday life at a moment’s notice.
For Netflix and Lovefilm, we’ve paid around £5 a month for the past year, and during that time, we’ve watched a handful of films and some old TV series. We’ve watched no more than around 60 hours of stuff, and we paid £60 for the privilege.
Contrast this cost to YouTube. In the past year, my household has probably spent around 1,460 hours watching YouTube videos. For free.
Early reports suggest YouTube paid subscriptions will cost around $1.99 per month, or roughly $24 for a year. For around 1,500 hours of entertainment.
I mean, in terms of value, £1 per hour is a perfectly acceptable cost – the value will be smashed by YouTube’s lower costs.
Similarly, both Netflix and Lovefilm only carry finite content at any given time – presenting a winnable challenge to honestly say “I’ve literally watched everything on there!”
You’d be hard pressed to claim that with YouTube.
I’d be more than happy to stump up a couple of quid a month to get anytime access to YouTube’s growing ensemble of overnight stars.
It may be amateur, it may be unprofessional, it may be overwhelmingly asinine and only speckled with genius. But YouTube is good TV.
And it’s better than watching Simon Cowell spitting mean comments on re-runs of My Pig Is A Star, Listen.