In the world of streaming video, YouTube is the undisputed king. At its core, the service may seem like it lacks the utility of Amazon, or deep integration found on Facebook and Instagram. Yet, out of all of these platforms, YouTube stands as the second most-visited website globally — boasting engagement rates that leave its competitors in the dust. Not to mention, it’s now available on more services and devices than ever!
In an unexpected twist, YouTube’s executives have announced the company plans to remove the paywall from its original streaming content, bringing these shows to its massive user base free of charge and ad-supported. Coincidentally, this news comes at a time where YouTube has finally broken a major milestone — reaching 2 billion monthly logged-in users. This makes it one of the largest communities in history, let alone the internet.
Not all is sunshine and roses with YouTube’s latest announcements, however. Despite an ambitious plan for content and an impressive boost in membership, ad revenue on YouTube is declining. In addition, the rise of fake news, predatory comments, and disturbing viral videos are posing a threat to YouTube’s financial and social dominance. Is there maybe such a thing as “too much success” for a website to find?
YouTube Originals are now free-to-watch with ads
At YouTube’s annual Brandcast conference, the streaming giant announced that its award-winning original programming will finally be available to all YouTube users — regardless of whether they’re registered with the premium YouTube Red service.
The company specifies that this applies to all original content going forward, meaning its current paywall model is due to become a thing of the past. Instead, YouTube is working with advertisers to provide a streaming experience that competes directly with bigger names like Netflix and Hulu.
Neither of these platforms offers a free option, but Hulu is currently ad supported on its lowest-priced membership tier. As YouTube’s ad revenue has floundered in recent years, this provides an excellent opportunity to get more eyeballs on ads and boost their current earnings before it’s too late.
When are YouTube Originals going to be free-to-watch?
Their existing catalog of popular shows, such as “Karate Kid” sequel “Cobra Kai,” will be rolling out to users for free in waves. This show, in particular, was given a solid release window of late August through September. The second season of “Cobra Kai” is due to roll out immediately after.
In addition to free re-releases of YouTube’s current slate of shows, the company announced a range of new material coming down the pipeline this year. A new collaboration between YouTube and pop superstar Justin Bieber was teased, along with announcements for new seasons of”Cobra Kai” and fitness-comedy series “What the Fit?”
Several documentary series were slated for production as well, with efforts from names like Paris Hilton and game fanatic Markiplier set to debut at some point in the next year. Details on the new shows are currently scarce, but given how YouTube creators engage so readily with fans, it’s likely that they’ll be spilling the beans on their projects in due time.
Perhaps its no coincidence that these major announcements come alongside news that YouTube now boasts one of the largest communities of users on the Internet.
YouTube crosses 2 billion monthly users milestone
To get a sense of how big YouTube’s audience has grown, it’s worth comparing it to some of the most world’s most populous countries. India, for example, has the second largest population on Earth with 1.33 billion people. The most populated country, China, boasts 1.38 billion citizens as of a 2017 survey.
YouTube, by its current monthly count, boasts a staggeringly large community of 2 billion users. This is more than both India and China’s individual populations, and factors in for about a quarter of the total human population on the planet. This means approximately 25% of people on Earth have active YouTube accounts that logged in at some point during the past month.
Not only is YouTube’s community massive, but their time spent on the platform reaches equally absurd numbers. According to Wojcicki, users spend 250 million hours watching YouTube on TV screens alone each day. This insane number doesn’t even cover viewership on computers, tablets, or smartphones!
Why is YouTube losing money despite its huge membership numbers?
If you have the world’s largest user base, your advertisers and sponsors expect you to market to them effectively. This is where YouTube’s primary revenue comes from, and many of these traditional backers are finding themselves disillusioned with YouTube.
They cite faults in YouTube’s engagement features, as well as its negligence at moderating extremist and violent content on a platform designed (mostly) for all ages.
YouTube’s ad revenue is down for several reasons. Lack of interest and click throughs are major factors, but one of the biggest is fears from sponsors themselves about how YouTube is mishandling various scandals that have erupted on its platform in the past few years.
Fake news, already a scourge across much of the internet, has found a new home on YouTube thanks to the platform’s notoriously buggy algorithm. The system, which bases recommendations on engagement and interactions, consistently pushes conspiracy theories and propaganda towards unwitting users.
Other major scandals include the rise of extremists and pedophile rings, and the subsequent witch-hunts surrounding said groups that accidentally led to ordinary channels having their ad revenues cut out of suspicion.
And who can forget the propagation of violent content like the New Zealand shooter’s snuff film — which went unmoderated for several hours. People even saw the video push into their recommendations, and YouTube still can’t completely explain why.
YouTube’s success cannot be understated, but in order to properly host such a massive audience, major changes will need to be made to keep the platform safe. Users will need to feel welcome and protected from bad actors, and YouTube may need to rely less on filters, automation and algorithms to do the dirty work for it.
In the meantime, these new shows might be just the ticket they need to get advertisers back on board — for now.