YouTube Red might sound like a premium beer, but it’s actually the site’s attempt to horn in on the premium-TV space, by introducing its own subscription service. Yet the opening salvo of what amounts to a rather soft launch, with a trio of youth-oriented movies and one series, “Scare PewDiePie,” has a decidedly not-ready-for-primetime feel. Granted, the latter sort of looks like a reality TV show, albeit perhaps the 12th-best series on Spike or TruTV. What it doesn’t resemble is anything that its target demo ought to be in a hurry to pay to access.
The term “YouTube star” might seem a tad oxymoronic – part of the allure of these personalities is that they’re not part of the coddled Hollywood crowd – but within his universe, PewDiePie (a.k.a. Felix Kjellberg) clearly merits the designation. Still, the comic has come to this venture in a vehicle that, while simple enough to market, doesn’t bring much new to the party compared to his free videos that amass million of views online.
At 21 minutes, “Scare PewDiePie” possesses the same volume of content as a half-hour series sans commercials. Yet there’s almost nothing to it, based on the episode previewed, in which he promises his “Bro Army” that they’re “about to watch me get the absolute s—t scared out of me.”
Not really. Sure, PewDiePie cusses and screams a lot, facing situations inspired by video games. But the ordeal to which he’s ostensibly subjected in this shot-on-a-shoestring series doesn’t look a whole lot scarier than one of those mazes at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights. Even with a relentless barrage of spooky sound effects and funky camera angles – and a creative pedigree that includes producers from “The Walking Dead” – it’s hard to imagine anything but the most committed bros being anything but bored.
YouTube obviously has a distinctive programming niche, one that cuts against the grain of traditional television. In terms of the larger TV game, though, this initial salvo simply makes the company look like a neophyte, mistaking exclusive content for premium fare – especially with streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu stepping up their efforts and ambitions.
It’s fine, obviously, to offer younger consumers an alternative, and zig where everyone else zags; still, cut-rate movies and a TV show that could easily be plucked from late-night basic cable hardly give an audience with such an abundance of choices a strong motive to ante up.
Again, this is just a start. But if YouTube Red ever wants to break into the black, it will likely need to provide its bros more bang for their bucks than this.