YouTube Paid Channels: More Harm Than Good
Earlier this month YouTube unveiled their new commenting system based on the largely scoffed Google Plus (Google+) social network service. Plenty of people have already expressed their discontent with this update, citing various compelling reasons why the new system in an unwelcome change that further shoves the aforesaid Google Plus system down user’s throats all the while sacrificing the universal accessibility of the previous system. Which is why I won’t be wasting any of your time going over old ground and trying to convince you to demonstrate your protest by disconnecting from the world’s leading video-sharing website and migrating over to, say, Vimeo, Blip, or countless other quasi-alternatives that don’t really hold a candle to YouTube in terms of popularity.
No, what I would really like to address in this article is something that so far has gone unnoticed by the general populous. Something that hasn’t been implemented yet, but once set in motion, can seriously alter the way we’ve come to know and perceive YouTube over the years. I am, of course, talking about this.
As we can deduce from the image above, it appears that YouTube is planning on granting its content creators the ability to charge viewers a fixed fee so that they can subscribe to their channel and/or watch their videos. Now, while I WOULD like to declare that I’m taken back by this latest bit of news; honestly, I’m afraid I can’t really assert that I did not see this coming. For just earlier this year I remember stumbling across all sorts of rumors forewarning us of an advent of a similar pay-for-view system creeping just around the corner. Regardless, now that my and a lot of other people’s fears have been substantiated, I would like to ask you the very same question that crossed my mind when I first learned of the possibility of YouTube charging people for watching their videos. And that question is: “Who in their right mind would pay for Internet videos?”
Don’t get me wrong: As someone who has been painstakingly creating web content for Cheshire Cat Studios for the past two years or so, I believe in the Internet. Or to be more specific, I believe that the Internet can be a great platform for talented individuals to showcase their oeuvre to the entire world, to exchange brilliant ideas with like-minded people, and make a name for themselves. As my good friend LaughingMan put it: “For the first time in human history, people have the tools to make their ideas come to life and not only share them with the masses, but possibly build up a resume for the future.” Having said that, I’m also a realist. And by that I mean that I wholeheartedly accept and acknowledge the fact that a good 90% of Internet content is either insipid, lazy or just downright unwatchable. Which brings us back to my earlier question: “Who would pay to watch Internet videos?”
According to the aforementioned F.A.Q. page, YouTube is planning to allot the function to create paid channels to anyone who already owns a free account with a minimum of 10,000 subscribers. Not your average, run-of-the-mill 15 year old female vlogger who uses her YouTube channel to share beauty tips and spread the latest high school gossip, sure. Nevertheless, I am currently subscribed to a few channels who fit this criteria to a tee, so it’s not like this function is reserved strictly for the highest echelon of YouTube content creators. Good. Because often times the channels that YouTube considers to be the ‘cream of the crop’ of entertainment are the exact opposite: bottom of the barrel, junk food content that can easily turn your brain into mush when consumed in large quantities.
My not so humble opinions regarding YouTube’s so-called ‘top-tier’ content aside, the real question we should be asking ourselves is who would have the gall to charge their followers for views. See, while it is indeed true that I know a handful of YouTube content creators who could technically charge their followers for watching their videos, I’m having a hard time envisioning them doing so, to be perfectly honest with you. Partially because these people’s work ethic up till this point suggests that they’re not the type to exploit their fanbase in such a Machiavellian manner. But mostly because they realize that the moment they demand money from their viewers they’ll instantly lose up to 75% of their current following, if not more.
Allow me to promulgate what I believe to be the Top 3 reasons behind the insane popularity of some of the most prevalent YouTube content, such as Let’s Plays, ‘FAIL’ compilations, and video reviews. Reason #1: They’re free. This is kind of self-explanatory and, I admit, can arguably apply to all sorts of videos available on YouTube at the moment — not just the ones I listed above. Which is why we move on to Reason #2: They’re pervasive. Do me a favor, will you? Head over to YouTube right now and search for a walkthrough of any random video game that comes to mind. Or a review of the latest blockbuster that’s currently playing in the theaters. Or just simply type in the word ‘FAIL’ and see what happens. I can guarantee you’ll receive pages upon pages of results for your query. And finally, Reason #3: They’re addictive as all hell.
Here’s a hypothetical scenario for you. Tell me if any of this sounds familiar. You’re writing an essay, doing homework, or preoccupied with any other, equally important assignment. You’ve been plugging away at said project for about an hour or so and you decide it’s time for a well-deserved break. You get on your laptop and head over to YouTube to check if perhaps any of your favorite ‘Internet Personas’ have uploaded any new videos. This doesn’t seem to be the case, so you decide to leave the site alltogether. Just as you’re about to close the tab, however, your attention is caught by an enticing thumbnail or a peculiar title that somehow cropped up in your ‘Recommended Videos’ list. Perhaps it’s a walkthrough of a video game that you’ve been waiting for all past year? Or maybe it’s the latest bit of gossip about an artist you’re a fan of? Or it can even be something as inconsequential and trite as a chili pepper eating contest. Whatever the content in question may be, your curiosity gets the better of you and you end up clicking on said video. And then another one. And another one. The bottom line here is that due to the addictive nature of most YouTube videos, you’ve just squandered the last hour of your life watching inane cat videos or something equally unproductive when you should’ve been painstakingly plugging away at another, much more important task.
And these aren’t just my unfounded guestimates, my little droogies. After all, how else would explain the increased popularity of site-blocking software over the years?
Now let’s envision the selfsame scenario but with one minor distinction: Imagine that instead of presenting you the desired video, YouTube would’ve redirected you to an entirely different page offering you various subscription plans. Kind of like one of those prestigious adult websites that require your credit card information to unlock any of the site’s content. Now, obviously I can’t vouch for everyone here. However, personally this would’ve been a huge red flag for me. “X amount of dollars for insipid Internet videos? Yeah, ain’t happening. Also, wasn’t I supposed to be working on an essay? I was! Damn, I’d better get back to work before it’s too late. Thank you, YouTube! Your fathomless greed has slapped me back to reality and I’ve decided there are far more important things in life than your foolish content! I’m forever in your debt!” Sounds kind of counter-intuitive, doesn’t?
What’s even more discombobulating to me are the amounts that YouTube is planning on allowing its content creators to charge their viewers. When I first caught wind of the upcoming feature via this tweet from HyperBitHero, the word on the street was that YouTube was planning on charging people “as low as $1.99 a month.” Doesn’t sound too harrowing, now does it? However, if you go to this F.A.Q. page you’ll see an entirely different, far more sinister picture: YouTube is willing to allow content creators to charge their viewers up to $299.99 a month for their subscription. Now, before you raise any objections: I agree. At this point in time, there is no concrete proof that anyone WILL charge their followers such a ridiculous sum of money. And I honestly doubt they will. Because as we established earlier, if they do that they’ll simply lose any credibility that they might have had in the eyes of their audience. Even so, as evidenced by Anita Sarkeesian raking nearly $160,000 hands over fists with her ‘Tropes Vs. Women’ Kickstarter campaign, there are extremely gullible people on the Internet. As such, if you even allow for a possibility of someone making hundreds of dollars of a single subscriber in a month, you’re pretty much rolling out the red carpet for all sorts of unscrupulous people to come in and abuse the system for their own monetary gain. And even if it doesn’t come to that and everyone uses the system fair and square, tell me: What kind of YouTube content is worth $300.00 a month? Or $30.00? Or even just $3.00?
The truth of the matter is that there simply isn’t any type of videos on the site that are worth more than what their creators are already making via enabling ads on their videos. Because remember: This isn’t YouTube devising an ingenious way to allow its content creators to start making money from their work. Again, that’s what the ads are already there for. No, this is YouTube devising a Machiavellian scheme that enables its content creators to rake even more money than they already do, all the while YouTube is bound to gets its cut as well. So why introduce the new feature in the first place if it’s so destructive to YouTube’s public image, you ask? Well, what if I told that YouTube is doing this not to make a profit on the current content it has but rather to attract a whole new type of videos to the site?
Alright, fair warning: While I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with what I’ve written in this article due to the incendiary nature of some of my proclamations, I’d like to think that most of the arguments I’ve made up to this point are more or less grounded in reality. I mean, it’s basic common sense stuff, really. However, this is where the article ventures into a bit of speculative territory. You see, I believe that this entire ‘YouTube Paid Channels’ proposition is nothing but a smokescreen meant to obfuscate YouTube’s real intentions, a means to an end if you will. Oh, I have all the faith in the world that YouTube will inevitably make the aforesaid newest feature available to the masses sooner or later. I just wonder if that’s truly the last step in their master plan. (I realize that I’m starting to sound like a bona fide conspiracy nut here, but do bear with me please.)
Here’s what I mean: Take a look at this. What you see in front of you is a list of 89 approved paid YouTube channels. They’re largely hidden from the general public, yes. But trust me, they’re there. Anyway, here’s where we get to the nitty-gritty of my argument. Notice how the majority of this list is comprised of content that you’d normally find on cable TV networks, such as feature-length films, TV shows, children’s programming, documentaries, sports videos, cooking shows, and so on and so forth. Basically, I believe YouTube’s end goal is not to further develop and promote the content they already have, but rather to attract new one from other mediums by demonstrating cable networks and movie studios that there’s a fortune to be made on their website. And you know what? That might not be such a bad idea…
There’s no denying that YouTube’s image has undergone several major changes over the years. What was once a fledgling video-sharing website desperately competing for limelight with a horde of pretenders has now become the number one Internet video hosting service and a formidable media platform to be reckoned with. (Most Samsung Smart TV’s, for example, come with the YouTube app already pre-installed, right next to other popular media services like Netflix or Pandora.) But would a sudden spike in popularity in the last couple of years compel YouTube to change its primary purpose as well? I believe it would.
Here’s something all of us need to understand: Regardless of how we personally utilize the site (e.g., watching inane cat videos, listening to music, following a couple of talented individuals you’d otherwise never would’ve discovered, etc.), YouTube is running a legitimate business here. And as we all know, the goal of any business endeavor is to generate a profit. According to this article, the popular video site managed to generate more than $3.6 billion in gross revenue 2012. Doesn’t sound like chicken feed, now does it? However, just a year before that, it was reported that Google was struggling to find a way to make YouTube a long-term revenue generator, with Google CEO Larry Page asserting that “five years after the acquisition, YouTube required more investment to be profitable.” Couple this with the fact that YouTube has been slowly but steadily furnishing its ‘Movies’ section with both time-tested classics and popular recent releases and it’s not hard to see what the people running the site are trying to accomplish here. In short, based on the evidence I’ve managed to amass so far, YouTube seems to aspire to become a legitimate pay-for-view service akin to Hulu.Com or even Netflix, thus distancing themselves from their entrenched ‘content by the people, for the people’ image that has largely been the site’s M.O. since its inception.
And guess what? This is something we’ve already seen happen before with one of YouTube’s life-long rivals, Blip TV. Here’s a little fun story for you: Approximately two months ago Cheshire Cat Studios received an unexpected e-mail from Blip announcing that they plan on closing our channel “in an effort to keep Blip focused on high quality shows” as they put it. Not that we were downcast about losing those extra 30 views a month we got from their service; however, we quickly noticed that we weren’t the only ones to get the axe in such an abrupt and mystifying manner. For example, here’s a letter our good friend Jordan (ex-Busy Street) received from Blip around the same time as we did. The wording may differ, but the message is definitely the same. “You’re just not good enough for us.”
What’s truly discombobulating about this situation is that, like YouTube, Blip was once a mere video hosting service that allowed anyone to upload any videos they desired. What’s more important, they were also one of the first websites of this kind to offer a cut of their ad profits to their users. What this means is that, in the beginning, Blip TV was actually interested in attracting all sorts of talented individuals to come to their webiste and furnish it with original content. Nowadays, however, it doesn’t seem like the site owners have much desire or patience to see fresh talent grow. Instead, they seem to have surrounded themselves with a small group of ‘trusted’ video producers that are guaranteed to draw plenty of traffic — and, by extension, revenue — to their site. The so-called ‘high quality web-shows’ that they’re so hellbent on supporting. So if you’ve ever dreamt of making it big on Blip TV, you’d better make sure you come to their website with preexisting 100K+ following and a sponsor or two if possible. Otherwise sorry, they’ve to make room for yet another video review series or a lowbrow ‘geek’ sitcom, you see.
As my good friend LaughingMan put it: “If Blip TV was ahead of the curve on the video monetization front, who’s to say that YouTube won’t dump the millions of content creators overboard to make way for their new ‘top-tier’ content producers?”
But of course, such a drastic upheaval can’t simply happen overnight. Given how notoriously resistant the popular video site’s userbase is towards any kind of change, a sudden shift of course like this would be seen as nothing short of treachery on YouTube’s part. Which is why they have to be clever about how the pitch their newest proposition to the masses. First they let normal content creators charge their followers a fixed fee for watching their videos to get everyone accustomed to the idea of paid content on the site. Like a ‘YouTube Premium’ section if you will. Afterwards, once the initial dust has settled and everyone has begrudgingly accepted the site’s latest innovation, YouTube will start a more active (possibly even aggressive) ad campaign to promote non-user created paid content available on their site. To what end, you ask? Simple. Tell me, did you have any idea you could watch feature-length movies on YouTube before I shared a link to the site’s ‘Movies’ section? Neither did I. But of course, once mainstream Hollywood releases make their mark as legitimate content endorsed by YouTube itself, there’s a good chance that television series, documentaries, reality shows, and other popular forms of entertainment are bound to follow in tow.
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Whether we want it or not, YouTube is changing, my friends. There is no guarantee that upcoming evens will necessarily unfold in accordance to the scenario I proposed above; however, based on the evidence I’ve seen so far, it does appear like YouTube has a few tricks up its sleeve prepared for the future — with paid subscriptions simply being one of the many innovations to be integrated in days to come.
The site owners seem to have their eyes set on the ‘Almighty Dollar’ and are willing to gamble everything to turn their creation into an effective money-making machine. Furthermore, it seems like they’ve already set said process in motion. And if what this video stipulates is true, I wonder if YouTube truly realizes the risks of extirpating some of the most popular content on their site just to become friends with the big media corporations…
Only time will tell what will eventually become of YouTube. I can certainly respect the site’s owners high ambitious; however, if small-time video producers such as ourselves will have our unique content gradually supplanted to make room for paid entertainment already available on several different platforms, we might start thinking of looking for a new home. Just sayin’.
***Special thanks to LaughingMan for input and guidance during the writing process of this article.***