YouTube's video free-for-all is about to start charging admission
Google's massive video site will launch a subscription tier that strips out ads for a price. But the free ad-based option remains.
Joan E. SolsmanFormer Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
ExpertiseStreaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation onlineCredentials
Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
NEW YORK -- Online video giant YouTube unveiled a paid service that takes away commercials for $10 a month.
The new YouTube Red is an alternative to the free, ad-based service, which remains an option.
"The YouTube you know and love continues to thrive and will continue to thrive," Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl said Wednesday at a presentation for members of the press. "We have been working on bringing a whole new experience to fans...a new way to experience YouTube without ads."
The new tier asks the more than 1 billion people who visit YouTube each month to alter their assumptions about the worth of online video. By putting a dollar value on a site that was free with advertising for a decade, parent Google is showing it believes consumers will pay for its content and new perks. It also puts YouTube in competition with popular online subscription services like Netflix and Hulu. That means consumers more and more will need to consider how many entertainment sites deserve $10 a month out of their wallets.
"Paid membership is a really hard business to be in," Kyncl said. He added that YouTube initially focused on developing Red with desired features like offline and background viewing before deciding it should have exclusive content as well. "Every subscription service goes through an evolution, and we'll learn."
YouTube Red serves all of YouTube's videos without ads, and it lets members save videos to watch offline on their phone or tablet as well as play videos in the background. It also includes exclusive original shows and movies by top YouTube talent. Membership extends across devices and YouTube apps, including the YouTube Gaming app and a new YouTube Music app the company will make available soon.
Viewers in the US can try YouTube Red for free for one month starting October 28. It is launching initially in the US, but the company plans to expand to every area where YouTube operates.
YouTube, the Internet's biggest video site, also touted a parade of some of the site's most popular talent, who are releasing movies and shows for Red members. "Scare PewDiePie" is a reality horror series that plunks the site's most popular video creator, Felix Kjellberg (39.9 million channel followers), into terrifying situations inspired by video games. "A Trip to Unicorn Island" is a movie that follows creator Lilly Singh, known as Superwoman (6.9 million channel followers), on her world tour. "Sing It!" is a scripted series about a fictional vocal competition from the Fine Brothers (13.3 million channel followers), best known for their "Kids React to..." franchise of videos.
"This is where we want to be," Benny Fine, one of the brothers, said. The future of premium entertainment crosses different ways to watch, he added. "Only YouTube is set to do that."
YouTube's originals will eventually be available to watch free with ads after an unspecified, lengthy amount of time.
YouTube executives said they plan to focus on talent that rose to prominence on its site, rather than wooing more traditional stars to make films and series for YouTube Red. That contrasts with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which have won critical acclaim and greater popular awareness with edgy originals cast with traditional stars.
Los Angeles-based YouTube tested the waters with subscriptions last year. In November, it rolled out a pilot version of YouTube Music Key, a $10-a-month service that lets members watch music videos and listen to songs on YouTube without ads. The service has been invitation-only so far, and it has yet to actually charge members, as the company has extended it as a free trial.
YouTube also unveiled a dedicated music app, which it plans to release later this year. The app will be free to download and use, but a YouTube Red membership removes ads and lets members play music in the background and offline. The company said the YouTube Music Key pilot taught it that people didn't want to use its features on just music -- they wanted to use them across all of YouTube.
YouTube Red subscriptions are interchangeable with Google's pre-existing streaming music service, $10-a-month Google Play Music. Subscribing to one automatically gives the customer access to the other. When consumers download the YouTube Music app, they get a two-week free YouTube Red membership; after that period, Music app users can extend their trial for another 30 days after entering credit card information.
Update, 12:15 pm PT:Adds quotes and further details.