Whether or not YouTube would launch some sort of premium paid subscription service has been bandied about for quite some time due to Google's struggle to monetize the platform despite its jaw-dropping success. The launch of YouTube Music Key, an ad-free subscription music service, late last year all-but suggested this question was no longer an "if", but "when". Several months later, in early April, Google practically confirmed that such a service was in the works by informing their partners of an upcoming option where viewers could pay a set fee each month in order to get an ad-free YouTube experience. According to recent reports Google has signed up the bulk of its creators and could release the new service by the end of the year.
In a recent statement YouTube announced that partners accounting for more than 90 percent of views have signed on for the new service. Although channels will be getting the same cut (55%) of subscription revenue as ad revenue Google is strong-arming creators into jumping on board; none of their videos will be publicly viewable unless they take part in the program. So far most of YouTube's homegrown creators and music channels have consented to the new agreement. The biggest hold outs thus far are the major TV networks, such as Fox, NBC, and CBS, who are reluctant to go all-in on the new service because they utilize YouTube for promotional and marketing purposes; a place for short clips that entice users to watch full episodes on TV.
Late last year Google announced it will be funding a number of original series that will air on YouTube, much like original series created by Netflix. These programs are expected to start airing next year and have budgets ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to $5 million. This could prove to be a key feature that will attract users, as many of the shows will only be available to paying subscribers. It is important to note the new service will also give all creators the option to hide videos behind a paywall if desired, limiting the number of videos that may be available to users of free, ad-supported YouTube.
YouTube will also apparently being rolling out two other features with the service that will be familiar to Music Key subscribers; the ability to save videos for offline playback and background playback (run other apps on top of YouTube without interrupting playback). This has led some to believe that YouTube may roll Music Key and its new service into one all-encompassing service, especially considering the price tag is rumored to be $10/month, which is what Music Key currently costs.
All told the new subscription model and premium original series' will change YouTube in numerous ways. On one hand having the option to avoid ads, play videos in the background, save videos for playback, and view premium content is great for those who are willing to pay. The release of premium content that rivals TV networks will also effectively raise the bar for content creators on the service at large, which will be great for all users. However, on the other hand, the most beautiful aspect of YouTube is its democratizating effect on content creation and consumption; all public videos uploaded to YouTube are truly public, it doesn't matter who you are or how much money you have you can upload or watch whatever you want. YouTube is one of the great modern equalizers – in the eyes of YouTube all users are the same. This is why YouTube has become a ubiquitous and influential force of 21st century culture; it has empowered a generation of people to consume and create content that is free to all. Let's hope the new service does not crush this spirit.