YouTube Shifts to Offer Original Programming for Free, With Ads

Trying to hit an AVOD/SVOD balance

You'll still need a subscription to watch Cobra Kai. Getty Images
Headshot of Sara Jerde

YouTube is moving to make all original programming free for viewers, but with ads “to meet the growing demand of a more global fanbase,” a spokesperson said.

This year, YouTube greatly invested in its original shows, expanding YouTube Premium to 29 countries and launching more than 50 scripted and unscripted programs.

Next on its list, though, is to be able to let the billions of viewers who come to the platform initially watch original content next year without paying $11.99 per month for a YouTube Premium subscription.

“This next phase of our Originals strategy will expand the audience of our YouTube Original creators and provide advertisers with incredible content that reaches the YouTube Generation,” the spokesperson said.

Some original shows already announced, such as the second season of Cobra Kai, a revival from the Karate Kid franchise and the second season of a science fiction series, Impulse, are still going to require a YouTube Premium subscription.

But other new original content will be (at least initially) available to viewers for free with ads. That doesn’t mean that the programming will always be free. It could then become exclusive for YouTube Premium subscribers and the overall company strategy might change again for 2020.

YouTube has already experimented with balancing AVOD and SVOD programming.

Episodes of Best Shot, for example, an original series produced by LeBron James, were free before they required a YouTube Premium subscription.

And as YouTube’s global head of original content Susanne Daniels told Adweek in September, it would be a “case-by-case” and “show-by-show” basis on determining what content lived where.

“I think we’re going to win with giving a lot of shows—maybe 50 percent, maybe two-thirds—an AVOD window of some sort. Maybe a day, a week, a month—and then move them to SVOD,” Daniels said at the time.

“But some things should remain exclusive,” Daniels continued. “I think there should be some benefits to being a Premium member that don’t just include bingewatching. So you get access to certain things, like additional footage and special shows that are just behind the paywall.”

A YouTube spokesperson did not say how many subscribers have signed up for YouTube Premium.

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.
Publish date: November 27, 2018 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT