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YouTube Rings in Era of Ad-Supported Originals By Making ‘Cobra Kai’ Free to Watch

YouTube is following through on its promise to take down its paywall for some of its original content, starting with its hit show “Cobra Kai.” The entire first season of the series, which is based on the “Karate Kid” story, became available to watch for free to the service’s global audience Thursday.

Season 2 of the show will be made available for free starting on September 11. YouTube first announced plans to liberate “Cobra Kai” from its paywall in May, when it outlined a new strategy to refocus its original content efforts on ad-supported viewing.

YouTube previously only served up a few episodes of “Cobra Kai” for free, but those were resonating with the service’s audience. The first episode of season 1 has garnered some 55 million views to date, and the premiere episode of season 2 hit 20 million views in just 6 days, according to the streaming service.

Going forward, YouTube will release originals for free as well, but keep director’s cuts and bonus content behind the paywall.

“Today, we are welcoming a global audience to enjoy our award-winning series and specials,” said YouTube’s chief business officer Robert Kyncl in a statement. “We see a tremendous opportunity to develop more region-specific content, particularly in Europe, Asia and Latin America, and will continue to partner with the biggest stars and creators in the world to share their stories and voices.”

As part of these efforts to produce a more global slate of originals, YouTube announced 5 original European shows Thursday. These include “Virtually History,” a 30-minute VR documentary that commemorates the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall that will premiere in October, and the BBC-produced “The Edge of Science,” which will premiere in December. A Slate of Latin American shows is scheduled to be announced in the coming months.

YouTube also announced plans to release the documentary “The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash” for free on the service on October 8, and bring back its original shows “Liza on Demand” and “Impulse” for second seasons in the coming 2 months.

YouTube’s new paywall-free release strategy for its original content can be seen as a response to both the growing popularity of ad-supported viewing as well as its inability to establish its premium tier as a meaningful competitor to other paid streaming services. The Google subsidiary announced last year that it was rebranding its YouTube Red subscription service as YouTube Premium, which combines ad-free video viewing with access to its YouTube Music streaming service.

However, YouTube hasn’t given up on its paywall for original content entirely: The service is still windowing individual episodes of new shows, giving users who aren’t paying for YouTube Premium only a limited time to watch them. Premium subscribers on the other hand will have access to entire seasons to binge on.

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