YouTube has announced their new service entitled “YouTube Red” that creates a way for users to pay $9.99 a month ($12.99 for iOS users) for ad-free content as well as premium content available only for paying users. which rolls out in the United States on Wednesday, October 28th and globally later. In addition to ad-free viewing, YouTube Red membership also allows users the ability to view videos offline or set them for “background viewing.” The business model is based upon other services such as Spotify or Hulu where content is available for free but users can bay a monthly fee for ad-free viewing/listening and additional offline perks.
What does this mean for YouTube users and content creators? Is $9.99 worth it? According to YouTube’s chief business officer, Robert Kyncl “People are embracing paid subscriptions for ad-free content at an incredible pace.” Does this really apply to YouTube though? Is what YouTube offers really as simple as what we already experience with Hulu, Spotify and other related services?
Not in the Hands of Content Creators
One of the biggest complaints with YouTube Red has been from content creators who feel bullied into going along with this. Several different sources report that YouTude has forced creators to accept this. According to a Google spokesperson:
Both creators and users have been asking for a YouTube subscription service and that’s why we built YouTube Red. Today, the overwhelming majority of our partners, representing nearly 99% of the content watched on YouTube, have signed up. Videos of partners who don’t update their terms will be made private, but we remain committed to working closely with these partners with the goal to bring them on board.
What this means is that content creators either go along with this new business model or their content will not be viewable on YouTube. This is an understandable business practice, if you’re going to use their platform then you follow their rules, disagree with them as you might. What this means for YouTube’s users is that content they’ve liked for a long time may no longer be available.
ESPN has removed their videos (sorry, sports fans, you’ll have to go elsewhere). International music labels have had their content blocked in the United States as well because of YouTube Red. This especially bothered me since I’ve used YouTube for years as an introduction to new music types and new groups – but now it seems that only the major US labels are permitted on YouTube. This especially sucks for independent groups or foreign labels that utilized YouTube to build interest in the United States. While this means those who have money continue to make more money without the bother of competing interests on major platforms, that’s how they’ve chosen to do business. This should be stimulus enough to find other means.
YouTube as an Informational Source
Remember newspapers? They are still around. You BUY a newspaper – you pay money for news that you can easily get online for free. Why? Because we know, at this point, that news online is often incorrect, biased and unedited. We don’t buy a newspaper for an ad-free experience, because there are advertisements – but we can clearly tell the difference between ads and news; in fact newspapers often clearly label advertisements as such. The difference between major newspapers and magazines we pay for and the internet we get for free is ethics.
YouTube is one of the world’s largest sources of gross misinformation, stealth advertising and the most unethical of practices. First, there is the fact that many videos on YouTube are stealth advertisements. There are viral videos we all watched that were actually advertising us a product. Entertainment that is simply ad ad for McDonalds. You think $9.99 will give you an ad-free experience on YouTube? Think again. You can actually just watch NOTHING but advertisements on YouTube – advertisements you paid money to watch.
Then there is the misinformation, rampant all over YouTube. This goes with the advertisements disguised as fake information. Remember the anti-vaccination movement (which is still around) – completely built around false information propagated through the internet. The real world results of that was an epidemic of measles in the United States – people died from a video on YouTube they thought was real news. Then there was the 2005 video “Loose Change” which was a major success in igniting the 9/11 conspiracy theories. Originally conceived as a fictional screenplay, it’s a hoax that many, MANY people have taken to be fact. While empirical evidence exists to show that Loose Change is a hoax (here, here, here, here, and here) – the damage was already done – ten million people fundamentally misled about one of the most cataclysmic events in American history.
Here is a news report of a teenager who committed suicide over bullying carried out on YouTube. Nobullying.com has reports and statistics about the flagrant bullying of YouTube users by their peers. Even Time magazine has a report on it. When’s the last time you heard of someone who was bullied by editorials in the New York Times or the Washington Post? I don’t think that’s ever happened.
The difference between the reliable news we pay for is reporters and journalists who are held accountable for their actions. There are journalists who’ve been fired, fined and even jailed over misinformation. Newspapers and major media sources we trust and rely upon have ethical boards, fact-checkers and a system of safeguards to ensure that information is accurate. That’s why we pay for that information. Would you pay $9.99 a month for news that is inaccurate, reported by unethical amateurs, manipulative to sell a product and encouraging the bullying of another person? YouTube thinks you do want to pay for that.
YouTube as Entertainment
I still pay money for cable television. I pay for Netflix as well. I enjoy movies, good and bad, as well as access to a library of television shows and original series. I feel these are worth my money.
You can watch movies on YouTube. Plenty of public domain stuff there now. Some companies have a library of free movies (mostly obscure older things). Or you can rent a movie for $0.99-$3.99 to view. There are also the most amateur movies shot with a camcorder that are available for free because nobody in their right mind would distribute it, or even watch it. What does YouTube have for original programming? Hours and hours of user-generated content, some good but mostly bad. Their featured creators are people like PewDiePie, so you can pay $10 a month to watch a hyperactive Swede play video games when you can just as well play a video game yourself.
People pay money for quality entertainment. Spotify offers an almost infinite library of music to cater to any taste. Hulu has a whole history of television available for you. Netflix has thousands of movies, television series and original programming. Even Amazon Prime offers a ton of entertainment for its monthly fee. Netflix exclusives have won Emmys. Can’t say the same about YouTube – no real acclaim to be had there.
While there is a demand for paid content and people willing to pay for ad-free programming, they want quality in exchange for that money. We deserve quality for our money. Is it worth $10 a month to get an ad-free video of someone ranting about a video game? Is it worth money to see another tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist explain that “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams,” while playing The X-Files Theme again? Is it worth $10 a month for unethical, abusive and false news. Is it worth $10 a month to watch your advertisements without additional advertisements on top of them?
The only problem with YouTube’s current business method was that corporations weren’t making as much money as they could. YouTube has amended that. You can either go along with that or come up with your own solution. Google was developed by people in their garage – there’s no reason you can’t do the same.