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YouTube launches channel subscriptions

Google yesterday announced the launch of paid subscriptions for YouTube channels. So far this is only for a pilot group of around 30 hand-picked channels, but they say they are going to expand to a broader list of qualified partners that will operate on a self-service basis. I take that to mean that getting approval to charge for a YouTube channel will be somewhat like getting approval for an app to appear in the Google Play store – most everything that isn’t offensive will get approved.

If so, this is a big moment in the ongoing shift to over-the-top TV. In the five years or so that Google has been operating its YouTube channel programme which allows content owners to keep 55% of ad revenues from their content the amount of premium content viewed on YouTube has sky-rocketed. YouTube channel network companies that like Machinima, Maker Studios and ChannelFlip that provide distribution and monetisation services to content owners have seen amazing month on month growth in videos viewed and are now enjoy billions of video views per month. Most of these views are from teenagers and young adults who use YouTube as a substitute or even replacement for traditional TV. This growth has come when the only form of monetisation available is an ad share with Google. Now that subscriptions are available expect to see more high quality content come to the platform and as history has shown us over and over high quality content brings viewers.

However, whilst this is an exciting moment for those of us looking forward to ditching our cable and satellite subscriptions I don’t think YouTube channels in their current incarnation will be the end game. Firstly, Google’s 45% take of revenues (they offer the same deal for ads and subscriptions) is too high and in the medium to long term they will face meaningful competition and either lose out or shift to taking a substantially smaller cut. Secondly, as Kevin Kelleher wrote on Pando earlier this week the online TV world is splintering into lots of subscription based walled gardens and the user experience is suffering as a result. At a minimum I expect services to arise which allow users to search and discover across all the services they subscribe to, but I suspect also that ‘pay for what you watch’ revenue models might eventually displace subscriptions. Subscriptions are another form of bundle and with good search and discovery and simple payments I think users will pay more when they are only paying for what they want and not having to pay for things they don’t watch.