With the launch of YouTube Red’s first slate of original programming this week featuring stars like PewDiePie and Lilly Singh, it’s time for the inevitable comparisons to Netflix begin. Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein offered his perspective via Periscope below.
YouTube Red is a new subscription service for $10 a month that differs from the free version of YouTube in that you can skip the ads entirely, watch offline and access a massive music library. In addition as of Wednesday, there’s original long-form programming featuring some of the YouTube stars you’re accustomed to seeing in shorter bits.
That means some of the platform’s biggest stars like PewDiePie and Lilly Singh are featured in movies and TV shows you can’t get anywhere else. When Netflix began adding original content to its service with “House of Cards,” it helped take that company to the next level. In just a few short years, Netflix has ramped up pretty dramatically, and now Amazon Prime and Hulu are following quickly in its wake.
Consider that those sites have not only huge libraries of TV shows and movies that YouTube just doesn’t have, but they are also much further along in building up their arsenal of original shows. That said, in the long term, YouTube is more than equipped to close that gap on the originals side, and I suspect that’s just what they’ll do. While YouTube Red is launching with just four long-form programs, there’s going to be as many as 25 throughout this year, including upcoming projects featuring other stars like Gigi Gorgeous.
So is PewDiePie — inarguably the biggest star online — like YouTube’s Kevin Spacey? If the first wave of viewers checking out the show is any indication: no. Those should be his biggest fans, and if they’re not feeling the show, that’s not a good sign.
Taking digital-native talent like PewDiePie and plugging them into movies and TV shows is not necessarily going to work. You can argue that these traditional molds are going to reject them like organ transplants, that they can only really blossom growing wild in their native habitat. But the only way to prove that notion wrong is to try, and that’s going to take a lot of trial and error.
That’s really gets to another reason YouTube created YouTube Red: As Netflix and Hulu started to pick off talent from YouTube like Miranda Sings and Freddie Wong, YouTube had to make the defensive move of creating a place where its homegrown stars could fulfill ambitions beyond just vlogging in their bedrooms. Otherwise, they’d find themselves in the terrible position of grooming talent for their competitors to exploit.
Still, what would be a bigger mistake is if YouTube Red followed the same game plan Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are all employing: They’re going after adults with high-end, awards-friendly content. First, it’s an organic extension of YouTube’s sweet spot; the creators on this platform are already hitting millennials, so there’s no awkward lurch here to get at an audience new to YouTube. But millennials are also where YouTube Red’s competitors don’t seem to be focused.
When you look at the programming lineups for Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, you see two audiences being served: children and adults. So there’s a missing segment in the middle that these companies are slowly starting to fill, but YouTube Red is better poised than anyone to get those millennials. Why not build a base out of the teens and tweens?
That’s really the smartest play YouTube could make: Hook fans with the most popular talent so that it’s hard to resist forking over extra bucks to watch more. Considering what a massive audience YouTube already has, just getting a fraction to pay seems like a sure win.