YouTube Is Making All of Its Original Content Free and Ad Supported

It's also creating a 'top secret project' with Justin Bieber

YouTube's Robert Kyncl shared the company's Brandcast messaging with attendees: 'Prime time is personal.' Dianna McDougall for Adweek
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YouTube is bringing all of its original content beyond the paywall and into an ad-supported environment.

Today at the company’s annual Brandcast event at Radio City Music Hall in New York, the streaming video service announced plans to create an expanded slate of new and returning series from a range of mainstream celebrities and YouTube creators. According to YouTube, this year’s slate of scripted and unscripted content is focused around “music, learning and personalities.”

YouTube chief brand officer Robert Kyncl previewed the Brandcast news earlier today in an interview with Adweek, during which he said Adweek’s cover last year featuring Cobra Kai, YouTube’s Karate Kid revival, prompted the company’s change in original content strategy.

“To me it was incredibly funny and interesting that this content that wasn’t even ad supported was on the cover of Adweek,” Kyncl said. “That got us to thinking that maybe we should alter our strategy and lean into what we do every day and what we do best. So, one of the changes that we’ve gone through is to align our originals with the way YouTube works, which is everything is available free, and everything is available behind a paywall if there are certain features that you value in order to pay for a [YouTube Premium] subscription. With originals, we’ve gone from being focused on driving subscriptions to aligning with the core business.”

YouTube will move Season 2 of Cobra Kai in front of the paywall on Sept. 11, offering a free, ad-supported experience. Beginning two weeks earlier, on Aug. 29, it will also offer Season 1 for free. The company also ordered a third season of the series, it announced today.

“Our content strategy is to deliver as broad a set of programming to our users as possible so that we can deliver on the promise of prime time being personal,” Kyncl said.

Among the new content will be what YouTube is calling a “top secret project” with Justin Bieber, who got his start on the platform as a teenager. Two other music-focused series include a documentary about Colombian musician Maluma and live coverage of this summer’s Lollapalooza music festival. YouTube is also producing a documentary about Paris Hilton to debut in 2020 that will explore how the icon has evolved from her past, and a documentary about Dude Perfect that showcases the comedy group’s tours and stunts.

This summer, YouTube will also start rolling out a number of educational series such as BookTube, which will expand on the hit special that starred Michelle Obama. The series will feature a variety of authors and personalities talking about their books with YouTubers and others in monthly installments. In October, YouTuber Jake Roper will host Could You Survive The Movies, a series about the world of cinema, and in December, YouTuber Marques Brownlee will bring an unscripted unboxing series about technology and pop culture.

This year, YouTube will also release its first interactive series, which will let viewers control YouTuber-gamer Mark Fischbach’s “life-or-death” decisions while he attempts a museum heist. (The series is a followup to Fischbach’s interactive A Date With Markiplier and will begin production in late spring.)

YouTube is also bringing back a number of other shows for another season, including Kevin Hart: What the Fit.

During the presentation, YouTube also introduced a few other tools that it hopes will woo marketers away from linear TV toward digital. For example, the company said it’s updating its algorithm for Google Preferred to include video that’s frequently watched on a TV screen as well as other highly-produced content from among the top 5% of YouTube’s most engaged with or most popular videos. The company is also working to bring Nielsen Catalina services to Google Preferred by the end of 2019, which could help measure offline sales lift for campaigns.

YouTube also continues to grow its user base. According to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, the platform now has 2 billion monthly viewers with 250 million hours of videos watched on TV screens each day. The number of channels with more than 1 million subscribers has also grown, doubling in the past year.

The event was in many ways like Brandcasts of the past. A variety of YouTubers went onstage to talk about how the platform has helped make them famous, and top marketers touted the value of YouTube for their own marketing. However, looming in the background over the night—and over the past year—was the ever-present question of brand safety as Google continues to grapple with how to prevent misinformation, hate speech and violent content from finding its way onto the platform.

In brief remarks, Wojcicki acknowledged the challenge facing the company, adding that Google removes millions of videos each quarter before they even get a single view.

“Living up to our responsibility is my No. 1 priority,” she said. “And we are making significant progress. My leadership team and I, along with thousands of people at YouTube, are laser-focused on this.”

This story has been updated following YouTube’s BrandCast on May 2.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.