Change is in the air this week as Google is set to announce a charging model for YouTube. This charging model could apply to as many as 50 YouTube channels, with viewers able to subscribe to each channel for as little as €1.99 a month. Whilst YouTube began as a hub for user generated content, it has gradually restructured over the years to hosting bespoke ‘channels’ for organizations, music & film stars and companies. It is these channels that Google proposes to charge for.
Nevertheless, when questioned this week by the British newspaper, the Financial Times, YouTube remained coy and said that it had “nothing to announce” regarding channel subscriptions but 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”.
As other platforms have begun to realize, there are possibilities for revenue beyond advertising and a way of justify this charging method is the perceived improvement in quality that paid-for content would offer. This an old argument, especially used by newspapers over the last 10 years when seeing the power of instant, online media on their circulation figures – the argument being that users find it difficult to distinguish amongst the clutter which content is worth watching or assimilating and which to simply ignore, and therefore the only way to assure quality, is to pay for it. A blanket ‘pay-wall’ model has had various results for other online platforms, for instance the British newspaper ‘The Times’ has flatly refused to release their online numbers to agencies, hinting at a less than enviable result, whilst the ‘Financial Times’ has seen steady growth in their online audience since their pay-wall was put in place. News International is also currently considering putting a ‘pay-wall’ in place for the online proposition from ‘The Sun’ as advertising revenues fail to make up for the shortfall felt by decreasing circulations.
Earlier this year, the marketplace saw also saw the launch of Pheed, a platform which attracts a creative audience, with features similar to Instagram and YouTube. However, more importantly, this platform launched with the idea of monetizing its content and has offered this possibility to all users from the beginning.
However, whilst it seems YouTube is following the trend set by other media owners, it is unclear how popular or successful such a model would be, especially when local video hubs, for instance myvideo.de & clipfish.de in Germany, are also popular alongside YouTube. This is the main danger of charging for content – it could push some users away from the site and even encourage local video-sharing sites to widen the content available and offer a real, locally relevant (and of course free) alternative to YouTube.