This week Youtube announced plans for a paid subscription service. After years of ad-supported free streaming, the video site is offering Youtube Red. The $9.99-per-month subscription will eliminate ads and unlock access to specific Youtube content unavailable to nonpaying members. Where have I heard this before...
Oh right, Hulu.
When Hulu was first made available in March of 2008, the video service provided a way for many users to watch recent television shows online and—more importantly—legally. The site was an important first step in getting popular channels on-board with the idea of putting their shows on the Internet. In 2008, Hulu was not just novel in what it made available, but how much it costed users compared to traditional television. With fewer ads than television, it almost made more sense to watch online.
And then came Hulu Plus.
For the low, low price of—you guessed it—$9.99 a month, users were able to use the service on non-traditional desktop devices. Phones, tablets and set-top boxes all became fair game while viewers got access to “every single episode of the current season…not just a handful of trailing episodes” for "almost all of the current broadcast shows on our service,” said the company in their launch statement. Which, if you've been using Hulu Plus lately, isn't exactly true much of the time.
When the Plus version of Hulu launched, the option had fewer ads than the free tier. Now the number of commercial breaks between Hulu and Hulu Plus resemble each other, so in comes Hulu Plus Plus: a $12.99 no-ad version of the service. Unless you're a fan of New Girl, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Grey's Anatomy, or Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the ad-free plan is fantastic and for you!
Now enter Youtube Red. Youtube went from a completely free streaming service, to adding ads on the sides of videos and then within them. Google's video includes the ability to skip past many of their commercials after 5 seconds and longer ads don't come often. Though this could possibly change if the search engine giant really wants to push people over to the more expensive Youtube Red, Hulu-style.
But, in Youtube's defense, it's an unfair comparison at the moment. My muddy history with Hulu shouldn't color my Red experience. While the owners of Hulu (Disney, Comcast's NBC Universal and 21st Century Fox) are traditionally very interested in charging users for video content, Google is much closer to the “offer-it-for-free” persuasion. Many of Google's most popular products are offered with not much more than the cost of seeing ads based on the data you feed it. While Google could start to deteriorate the free product to sway watchers to Red, it's likely they'd rather have you watching Youtube at all rather than take a gamble on squeezing more money out of you.
Though who knows: perhaps the day Youtube went Red is more of a warning sign than just a moniker.