Here's a subtle, yet interesting shift in the battle for video-on-demand dominance - YouTube has this week announced that it will make its original productions free to view, as opposed to only being available to YouTube Premium subscribers.
YouTube originals will now be ad-supported instead - Premium subscribers will still get early access to the latest content, but regular users won't have to pay to view them. You might just have to wait instead.
The change comes after YouTube switched its 'YouTube Red' brand to 'YouTube Premium' back in May as it continues to investigate ways to tackle Netflix and Amazon in the battle for viewers. YouTube also announced earlier in the year that it plans to invest 'hundreds of millions of dollars' into production of original content - though, evidently, those programs will be funded by the regular YouTube advertising model, as opposed to a Netflix-like subscription process.
It makes sense for YouTube to have tried the Netflix subscription approach. Netflix has gone from strength to strength, and it continues to build out its slate of content - but while YouTube may be looking to invest hundreds of millions, Netflix has allocated some $8 billion to original content in 2018 alone. That huge investment makes Netflix subscription a lot more attractive, and you can see, comparatively, how YouTube Premium might struggle to compete.
YouTube does, however, have a lot more users. Netflix has 118 million users worldwide, while YouTube has 1.8 billion monthly actives. By making their content freely accessible, YouTube can work to capitalize on its strengths, in providing capacity to reach more people through ads. YouTube Premium subscribers will still get an ad-free experience, so it's not a complete loss, while more people will be able to watch YouTube's shows, which will help the platform justify further investment and compete through its own model.
Essentially, YouTube's subscription experiment was just that, and it didn't work out as they might have hoped. But YouTube is running its own race, targeting its own section of the market. While it may not be able to catch up with the bigger VOD players, it can still build momentum and audience with its own offerings - and potentially still win in the long run.
But it's definitely interesting to watch the evolving online video battle. 2019 should bring a whole new level of competition for Facebook, YouTube and the other players.