On Wednesday, YouTube announcedan ad-free subscription service that will cost $US9.99 a month for desktop and Android — though Apple gets a bit of a poke with a $US12.99 price tag for iOS.
The service will be called “YouTube Red,” and an ad-less YouTube wonderland isn’t the only thing subscribers will get.
They will also, “early next year,” get original content from YouTube stars like PewDiePie, Joey Graceffa, Toby Turner, and MatPat.
Content will range from shorter videos to video series and films.
While YouTube Red is being described by some as a Netflix or Hulu killer, the focus of YouTube’s premium content actually seems at first glance to be fundamentally different from that on existing streaming giants.
Let’s look at one show that was explained in some detail on Wednesday, and stars PewDiePie, perhaps the most iconic star in YouTube history. PewDiePie’s new series will be called “Scare PewDiePie,” and YouTube is advertising the show as “a reality-adventure series from the creator and executive producers of The Walking Dead” where viewers can “experience thrills, chills and laughter as PewDiePie encounters terrifying situations inspired by his favourite video games.”
The emphasis on reality is important here.
One of YouTube’s main strengths is its “personalities,” the kind of superstars who can anchor a reality TV show just by being a stylised version of themselves. And while these kinds of stars are prevalent on network television, they are all but nonexistent in Netflix’s original content.
Netflix has comedy specials and has an upcoming talk show starring comedian Chelsea Handler. But reality TV is hardly its game. It’s no secret that Netflix sees HBO as a role model and sparring partner, and YouTube’s emphasis on personalities isn’t in HBO’s DNA.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has always characterised “linear TV” as his company’s rival, not other streaming services like Hulu. He seems to think there is room enough in the market for different niches of video streaming services. YouTube Red is a step toward this vision of the future.
The question will be whether there comes a time when customers start getting tired of playing X dollars for Netflix, Y dollars for Hulu, Z dollars for YouTube, and on and on.
But right now, YouTube has one weapon that guarantees it will make content that can provide something Netflix can’t, or isn’t interested in, delivering: personalities.