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YouTube Creators Getting New Options for Paid Memberships, Merch Sales, Video Premieres

YouTube is unboxing new ways for creators to rake in more cash, and it’s adding a new way to turn video premieres into anticipatory appointment-viewing events.

First is paid Channel Memberships, letting YouTubers offer access to exclusive content, members-only emoji and badges, and other perks for $4.99 monthly. It’s an expanded version of the “sponsorship” program it adopted last fall, after ending its fairly unpopular channel-subscription plan (which basically put an entire channel behind a paywall).

The Google video platform also is rolling out a merchandising feature, giving creators a way to sell T-shirts, phone cases, stickers, mugs and other products directly from their YouTube channels. And it’s launching YouTube Premieres, a tool for promoting live and on-demand videos at a scheduled day and time — complete with a countdown timer.

Neal Mohan, YouTube chief product officer, unveiled the new features Thursday at Vidcon 2018, the Viacom-owned confab for digital creators and their fans.

“We’re working on new ways to help creators strengthen those bonds,” Mohan told a packed ballroom at the Anaheim Convention Center. “That’s why we’ve been working alongside them… Together we’ve experienced the biggest music, sports, science, culture and gaming events unfold live on YouTube in the last year.”

Mohan said live-streaming of events like the British royal wedding last month and the launch of the SpaceX rocket attracted millions of people. The new YouTube Premieres feature for creators, Mohan said, is expected to create more real-time interaction between viewers and creators. “It’ll be like the entire audience around the globe for that video will be together,” he said.

The goal with the initiatives? As YouTube faces intensifying competition from Facebook, Instagram and others, Google wants to help career YouTubers build bigger fanbases and make more money from their channels.

“A lot of creators already are selling merchandise, doing influencer marketing, and fan-funding. We saw these things already happening,” said Rohit Dhawan, alternative monetization lead at YouTube. “So we’re going after the lowest-hanging fruit to make it much easier for them to do it on YouTube.”

The results in some of YouTube’s early tests have been huge. For example, Joshua Slice of Lucas the Spider three weeks ago began selling a plushie of his popular animated arachnid (pictured above) — and moved more than 60,000 stuffed spiders in 18 days, netting him over $1 million in profit.

According to YouTube, the number of creators earning $10,000 or more annually is up 35% year-over-year and those bringing in at least $100,000 annually is up by 40%. (It doesn’t reveal actual numbers.)

YouTube creators have long had the ability to generate revenue through ad-revenue sharing, and a “tip jar” for followers to buy premium chat messages during live-streams.

Now it’s letting YouTubers cater to their biggest fans with Channel Memberships, which it has been testing with a few creators in the past few months. Under the program, subscribers pay a monthly recurring fee of $4.99 (currently, the price point can’t be altered) to get unique badges, new emoji, members-only posts in the Community tab and access to unique custom perks offered by creators, such as exclusive live streams, extra videos, or shoutouts.

YouTube takes a 30% cut of membership fees. The program has been available on a handful of top channels via a “Sponsor” button during the trial phase. Over the next few months, it will be expanding to channels worldwide with more than 100,000 subscribers under the new name Channel Memberships.

“There’s a subset of those huge audiences who are superfans who would love to be closer to the creators,” said Dhawan.

YouTube channel owners can customize many different elements of their Channel Memberships, including designing their own emoji and badgets, and offering an array of content and merchandise bonuses to paying fans. “It’s a blank canvas,” Dhawan said.

While for now the $4.99-per-month Channel Membership can’t be changed initially, YouTube does plan to add the ability to add different subscription tiers. For example, for $1 monthly, fans might be able to get a membership badge next to their name. For, say, $20 per month, a YouTuber might provide even more exclusive features — like private livestreams.

YouTube also touted early results from Channel Membership trials. Travel vloggers Simon and Martina signed up 1,000 paying fans in 30 countries in six days for their members-only miniseries. Comedy creator Mike Falzone launched his sponsor program in January, and has more than tripled his YouTube revenue, according to YouTube, while musician Wintergatan now makes over 50% of his YouTube revenue from Channel Memberships (and plans to use the extra income toward funding a world tour).

For the new merchandising option, YouTube has partnered with San Francisco-based Teespring, to let YouTubers design, create and sell about 20 different products. Those products can be featured on a “shelf” underneath videos. Initially, the ecommerce program will be available only the U.S. creators with 10,000 or more followers.

Creators set the prices for the items they produce; Teespring keeps a portion of the revenue in addition to production and shipping costs, while Google takes “a small amount” of each transaction, Dhawan said.

YouTube plans to work with other merch companies in the future. It selected Teespring as the launch partner because “they gave us the broadest reach among creators and had the ability to scale,” according to Dhawan, while Teespring also extended better revenue-sharing terms to YouTuber creators through the program than Teespring’s standard deal.

Another new feature is YouTube Premieres, aimed at driving up engagement by turning videos into TV-like scheduled events. YouTube already allows on-demand videos to be pre-scheduled. What’s different with Premieres is that YouTube automatically creates a public landing page, which creators can then use to promote an upcoming live or recorded video release.

“It’s YouTube’s take on appointment viewing,” said Kurt Wilms, YouTube’s lead for live video and Premieres. “It’s the single biggest change to the upload flow since YouTube’s inception.”

Creators who are releasing YouTube Premieres post-VidCon are set to include: Simon & Martina , Leroy Sanchez, Jackson Bird, Los Polinesios, Ari Fitz, ZerkaaPlays, Theskorpionshow, Laura Kampf, Vintage Space, Yammy, R.LUM.R.JacksFilms, Corridor Digital.

Premieres also will be really useful to entertainment and media companies, Wilms expects. For example, a movie trailer can be scheduled with a premiere date and time, and studios can promote the URL of the landing page leading up to the reveal.

The minute someone schedules a Premiere, the page will be live, with a countdown timer in the lower left-hand corner over the video’s thumbnail image. At the scheduled premiere time, YouTube will kick off a standard two-minute countdown video.

The Premieres feature unlocks new forms of monetization, too. The Super Chat paid-messaging features, which has been available only on live streams, is now available in prerecorded VOD. (Creators can choose whether or not to leave up the replay of the chat in the post-Premieres debut version of the video.) In addition, Channel Memberships perks (including members-only live chat and emoji) are now available in VOD via YouTube Premieres.

For now, however, there’s no way to restrict access to Premieres videos to paying Channel Memberships users. YouTube is considering adding that down the road, Wilms said.

— Ricardo Lopez contributed to this report.

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