YouTube has concluded that its investments in original programming should have a home on the free, ad-supported side — not just tucked behind a paywall.
In a shift in strategy, the Google-owned video platform said that starting next year it will move to make all of its new original programming available for free for anyone to watch. With the change, YouTube is moving toward more mainstream celebrity-driven and creator-based reality fare, while it will continue to greenlight scripted productions.
Until now, YouTube Originals have mainly been available on its YouTube Premium subscription service, although YouTube also has expanded the shows and movies it makes available on an ad-supported basis.
“As we look to 2019, we will continue to invest in scripted programming and shift to make our YouTube Originals ad supported to meet the growing demand of a more global fanbase,” a YouTube rep said in a statement. “This next phase of our originals strategy will expand the audience of our YouTube Original creators, and provide advertisers with incredible content that reaches the YouTube generation.”
The company calls the new YouTube Originals strategy its “Single Slate,” which will combine ad-supported and subscription VOD programming initiatives. By 2020, YouTube’s original shows and movies will be available in free windows for all YouTube users. In the near term, some original productions will remain behind the paywall, including next year’s season 2 of “Cobra Kai,” an offshoot of the “Karate Kid” movies.
The move will make YouTube Originals available to the platform’s nearly 2 billion users worldwide. That, according to YouTube, will give YouTube creators and other talent the opportunity to reach an even wider audience.
YouTube’s originals team will continue to be headed by Susanne Daniels, global head of original content, who joined YouTube in 2015 from MTV.
YouTube Originals have included bigger-budget shows like sci-fi thriller series “Origin” from the U.K.’s Left Bank Pictures, the production company behind Netflix’s “The Crown,” and “Step Up: High Water,” based on the movie franchise of the same name. On Jan. 16, 2019, YouTube Premium is set to premiere 10-episode action-comedy “Wayne,” created by Shawn Simmons and executive produced by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (writers on “Deadpool” movies).
The lineup of YouTube Originals has been a key value proposition of YouTube Premium, priced at $11.99 per month, which also offers ad-free and offline viewing. This year, according to the video platform, YouTube expanded the YouTube Premium service — initially launched in the U.S. as YouTube Red — to 29 countries and premiered more than 50 shows.
Moving forward, YouTube Premium will include early access to original, exclusive content as a reason to pay for the service. YouTube has faced stiff competition in trying to lure paying customers with original content against the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, which spend far more on content.
According to YouTube, the strategy of putting originals featuring homegrown YouTube stars on the subscription VOD service worked: That programming drove fans to sign up for the service and giving creators a new canvas for longer-form projects. The original shows have included sitcom “Foursome,” starring YouTuber Jenn “jennxpenn” McAllister and actor Cameron Moulène; murder-mystery show “Escape the Night” with Joey Graceffa; and “The Thinning” dystopian films starring Logan Paul and Peyton List.
Last year, YouTube expanded its originals slate to include ad-supported programming. That included “Kevin Hart: What the Fit,” produced in collaboration with Lionsgate, in which Hart tries various workout routines, and shows featuring Ellen DeGeneres and YouTube’s the Slow Mo Guys.
In September, YouTube worked with Will Smith to live-stream for free “The Jump,” his bungee-jump over the Grand Canyon to raise funds for charity. And on Tuesday, Nov. 27, it launched YouTube Original documentary “The Price of Free,” following Nobel Peace Price recipient Kailash Satyarthi and his team around the world on quests to find missing children, for free viewing on the YouTube channel of Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake. The movie was produced in association with Participant Media and Concordia Studio.
At this summer’s Television Critics Association, YouTube announced renewals for “Impulse,” “Step Up: High Water,” “Mind Field,” “Foursome,” “Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television,” “Kevin Hart: What the Fit” and “Cobra Kai,” which are set to return in 2019.
YouTube launched its initial slate of original series and movies in early 2015. In those early days, the lineup included the “Scare PewDiePie” reality-adventure series and Rooster Teeth’s “Lazer Team” sci-fi action-comedy.
YouTube hasn’t ever disclosed how many subscribers it has signed up for the premium subscription service. It also offers YouTube Music Premium, an ad-free, music-only service, for $9.99 monthly, as well as YouTube TV, a bundle of live TV channels and on-demand programming, for $40 per month.
Pictured above: YouTube original series “Cobra Kai”