Would Consumers Pay For YouTube Channels?
Just after it gave its NewFront presentation without mentioning it at all, The Financial Times says Google’s YouTube is ready to debut a pay wall for some of its specialty channels.
YouTube so far is distancing itself a bit from the story—nothing to announce, they say. But it’s not flat out dismissing it. It told the paper it was “looking into creating a subscription platform that could bring even more great content to YouTube for our users to enjoy and provide our creators with another vehicle to generate revenue from their content, beyond the rental and ad-supported models we offer.”
In other words, part of the revenue would be split with creators, who could use the money to make bigger projects, presumably for conventional TV and theatrical release.
That could be lucrative for channels like Machinima, The Onion, Howcast, or maybe even Awesomeness, the kids site that was sold last week for $33 million to Dreamworks.
The FT story says “Viewers will be able to subscribe to each channel for as little as $1.99 a month” as if that is dirt cheap.
The vast millions of YouTube videos, and all the user-generated stuff, would still be available for nothing, which in many cases is what they are worth.
The pay channels idea sounds iffy to me, but it’s an interesting experiment that could become an indicator of just how much consumers are ready to pay for content, and how paying for it changes it.
YouTube is not only the 800 lb. gorilla in the video space, but is a veritable pack of gorillas in a jungle of little furry animals. If they can make turn a free site into just a partly-free site without adverse effect, things will have changed.
As everybody knows, in the history of the Internet, users have not been too friendly toward paying for that which was once instantly available sans wallet.
Paying for content is working to some degree for Hulu Plus, but probably not as well as Hulu would have hoped. Free content converted to pay content is still a mixed bag for newspapers that tried it.
Still, the allure to online video—probably more than content makers would like to know–is that most of it is free and free-form. There’s a cultural allure that even YouTube acknowledged at its NewFront presentation. YouTube fans feel they’ve “discovered” channels, and indeed YouTube’s presentation was loaded with performers that users, not Google/YouTube, did most of the “marketing” to make into stars.
Throwing up a pay wall, even for a fraction of the channels, commercializes the idea of being an online hunter. It changes the experience. Does it ruin it? Maybe we’ll find out.
The online video entrepreneurs say they compete with cable for audiences, but that’s not totally true because while cable does get money from customers it happens in a whisper. You don’t really know you’re paying $4 a month for ESPN and lesser amounts for dozens of others because it’s folded into a much larger cable bill.
But subscribing a to two or three YouTube channels, and then to Netflix or Amazon, and MLB.com, and maybe to The New York Times digital edition (or the very excellent Financial Times, which is reporting this story ahead of others), a consumer will start to see those charges adding up on the Visa card.
Then what? Are a bunch of short/quirky/niche videos worth $1.99 a month? How about 10 subscriptions?