Look out, modern world. You may not have noticed… but YouTube has set in motion another groundbreaking change that will make you even more addicted to videos.
Remember when viral videos were conniving chipmunks, pulverized iphones, and a cannibalistic, fratricidal boy named Charlie? YouTube was just for entertainment. Now, only a few years later, YouTube is so much more. Valuable news. Poignant social commentary. Product reviews. Incredible tutorials. It’s hard to imagine YouTube becoming even more useful, but it will. And that transformation will anger a lot of people.
A few weeks back, a powerful businessman and futurist sat while I babbled about the future. When I stopped to breathe, he said, “Ersan, people don’t care about 20 years from now. Tell them what to expect in 36 months and you will be valuable.”
Recently an insight hit me like an EF5. A massive change is forming, less than 36 months out, and it will impact your future. The change is a YouTube feature called Paid Channels. They’re like regular YouTube channels, except that you pay for them—a few bucks/month—and you won’t have to sit through ads.
Paid Channels were released over a year ago but weren’t widely publicized. Google is still working out the kinks, observing public response, and carefully orchestrating the unveiling—which I believe will happen within 3-12 months. At first, many people will hate Paid Channels, and then that hate will grow into love.
Evidence that Change is Coming
As of this writing, there are 225 Paid Channels. That number recently rose:
As you can see, something is brewing. What changed in September? The Google help page Introduction to Paid Channels reveals a clue. Today it says:
To be eligible to create paid channels, you must own a free channel with at least 1000 subscribers.
But on Aug 3rd, 2014, it said something different (courtesy of the Wayback Machine):
To be eligible to create paid channels, you must own a free channel with at least 10,000 subscribers.
Clearly, Google is lowering the barrier to entry and making this feature available to more channel operators.
The Paid Channel Tipping Point
How will the tipping point—the point at which Paid Channels becomes a widely known (and probably hotly debated) topic—happen? I see two ways:
- Google forces the tipping point by announcing Paid Channels on the home page of YouTube, the third most popular website in the world.
This will give Paid Channels a priceless shot of growth hormone. The downside is that, by centralizing their announcement, they make themselves vulnerable to criticism. The announcement would naturally be made by video. But by posting a video, they create a centralized forum—the comment section—for millions of disgruntled users to complain. YouTube could of course disable comments, but that would be the biggest PR gaffe of all time.
- Or will Google continue to let Paid Channels to grow in popularity organically, as they are now?
You may first hear about Paid Channels when your favorite channel makes a transition, or when a friend shows off her new subscription. This methodology is safer for Google because it allows Paid Channels to seep into our collective psyche with less friction and public complaint. The downside is that it’s a slower transformation, which means lost revenue for Google.
Why I Think the World Will Hate Paid Channels
As a futurist, I use something called Comment Sentiment Analysis. I look at the comments in existing Paid Channels. From this small sample, we can deduce how the world will respond when Paid Channels become a household term.
/Drive is a Youtube channel with a fanatical following of 1.2 million, which they wanted to monetize by creating a subscription-based called /Drive+. I bet they didn’t expect such a backlash. Interestingly, particularly angry comments come from hardcore, loyal fans. They act betrayed. Isn’t that peculiar? What is it about paid channels that causes devoted viewers to respond with such passion, such wrath?
- We hate when those in power throw their weight around.
By monetizing their channel, /Drive made a disruptive change with total disregard for their loyal, emotionally-attached fans. Big mistake. Imagine being 8 years old on Christmas morning, running down the stairs to find the presents gone. You look to your parents in confusion, and they say, “We changed Christmas. From now on you’ll only get gifts if you clean your bedroom on Christmas morning. Go clean it.” How would you feel? Devastated. You would be on the floor crying. Sure, it’s only a small chore, but come on, Christmas used to be free!
- Some worry that commercialization of channels will mean a drop in video content quality.
We’ve all had the unfortunate experience of watching a company we love get big, then deteriorate. Like HostGator and OverNightPrints, two companies I used to recommended to friends and clients. Now I avoid them because of a decline in their level of service. In a sense, I was their friend. I supported them when they were small. Then they got big, and forgot all about me. They betrayed me. This is how people will feel when, one by one, their beloved YouTube channels transition to the paid model.
- Many people believe that knowledge should be free. This raises the issue of commodification in the digital age—in this case, having to pay for YouTube videos that used to be free. Says Wikipedia:
“Commodification is often criticised on the grounds that some things ought not to be for sale and ought not to be treated as if they were a tradeable commodity—for example education, data, knowledge in the digital age.”
Why You’ll Grow to Love Paid Channels
Commodification will definitely benefit you, the viewer, because with commidification comes higher viewer standards and thus higher competition. Which means higher quality content!
Consider this scenario. A few years from now, you discover a Paid Channel providing 2 classical guitar tutorials every week. The channel has 2.5 million subscribers. It costs $4/month. How do you suppose this content will compare to the already great tutorials out there?
Better. Much better.
Are you kidding me? A channel with 2.5 million people choosing to pay $4/month? It’s obvious that this is the best damn classical guitar tutorial channel this side of Spain. It has teaching down to an art form. Its videos are optimized to not waste a single second of your time. All confused comments are addressed by the expert team behind the channel.
The above channel is perfect, but it does not exist. It cannot exist, as long as YouTube channels remain free.
But when you have a landscape where 2.5 million hungry users are eager to pay for top-notch content, a perfect channel like the above can afford to exist. This channel will only survive by being accountable to its fans and keeping them happy with amazing content. In a market where the number of subscriptions is public knowledge, subscriptions are cheap, subscriptions can be canceled immediately, and competitors are numerous… the consumer will benefit.
In other words, if you ever come across a Paid Channel with 2.5 million subscribers, rest assured: that channel is worth the price. If you see that many subscribers paying $15/month, or even $50/month… you know the channel is worth the price.
Tell me, wouldn’t you pay for the following channels, if you knew the content would be literally perfect?
- movie reviews
- new exotic cheeses
- comprehensive, scientific taste tests of organic pet foods
- comedy from the best emerging comedians
Paid Channels Will Rock Your World
YouTube is about to become a truly useful tool in your life, at the cost of a few bucks per month, per channel. Just remember to ignore the naysayers—because in 5 years, even they will have YouTube subscriptions.