YouTube’s Move to Premium Channels

Having a content subscription no longer means waiting for something to be sent to you in the mail — now, it means buying access to premium digital content online. In a move that won’t surprise many, Google’s video channel YouTube is poised to launch a premium subscription model as early as this week.

According to Mashable, up to 50 YouTube premium channels will be available for subscription at rates as low as $1.99 a month. For users accustomed to viewing content for free on YouTube, this could be a bit of a shock, but YouTube’s move isn’t just a way for the site to offer more and better content. It’s also a way to stay competitive in a quickly escalating war between traditional networks and digital content providers — and when viewed in that light, YouTube might be a latecomer. With Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu all investing in original programming, YouTube’s old free content model could be less of a draw for users and more of a financial burden.

Pilot controls in viewers’ hands

YouTube’s move to premium content has been made by other websites, but it’s tough to pull off successfully and consistently. Amazon’s approach is more cautious: In its Original Pilots program, Amazon gives viewers 14 original shows to choose from. With genres ranging from kids’ shows to comedies and sci-fi, the goal is for viewers to decide which of the 14 pilots should become a series produced by Amazon Studios. This model turns traditional programming on its head—instead of viewers getting attached to a quirky show like NBC’s Awake or The CW’s Veronica Mars only to see it get canceled, Amazon is counting on viewers to invest their attention in its best offerings before the company invests its money in production.

This move is calculated, but it could pay off. Netflix struck gold with its original political series House of Cards. It is looking to duplicate that success with new original offerings such as Hemlock Grove, but Hemlock has been hampered by horrendous reviews. Amazon’s prudence could keep them from losing too much money on a show that tanks. YouTube has the advantage of popular and established channels such as The Stylish and Geek and Sundry, whose audiences could be convinced to pay for more and better content. And with lower price points and production budgets, a show that stumbles wouldn’t necessarily spell disaster for a channel.

Sometimes, smaller is better

For both viewers and content creators, YouTube is the best place for niche content to thrive. This means it’s easier for channels run by solo content creators or small teams to attract and build audiences. By moving to a subscription model, shows with growing audiences could receive the resources they need to provide more and better content.

And online magazine New Media Rockstars makes the case for paying to view great content. From gaming how-tos to pure entertainment, writer Matthew Mannarino lists five premium channels he deems worthy of a two-buck investment. A YouTube channel that offers viewers useful, entertaining, and shareable content will attract an audience who’s willing to pay for the privilege—and it doesn’t matter if the channel is big or small.

With subscriptions for premium content becoming more popular, traditional networks and other elements of the entertainment industry may want to keep an eye on how successful YouTube’s move to a subscription model becomes. And as viewers become more willing to pay for the content they consume, it’s viewers themselves who could shape the future of online entertainment.

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