Tech Week Ahead: YouTube's Subscription Service

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Audie Cornish talks to Laura Sydell about the tech week ahead. They cover YouTube's new subscription service.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


I'm Audie Cornish. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.


CORNISH: YouTube, the website that made its name as the place where you can broadcast yourself, is on the verge of launching a subscription service. NPR's Laura Sydell joins us now to talk more about it. And, Laura, what is YouTube up to?

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: My sources are telling me that initially, this is going to be kind of a limited. But essentially, what they're going to do is put up a paywall, meaning, if you want to see certain content, you're going to have to put in your credit card and pay a fee. And according to several reports, viewers could subscribe to a channel for as little as $1.99 a month.

CORNISH: But why are they doing it?

SYDELL: I think it's been a planned evolution. Back in 2011, YouTube added a pay-for-movies feature. A couple years ago, they laid out more than $100 million and gave it to professionals to create content for YouTube. So Madonna oversaw the development of a dance channel, and the money from those channels has been coming from advertising.

But the revenue remains well below what traditional TV makes from advertising, so I think this is an opportunity, perhaps, to try a different kind of pay model.

CORNISH: But we're all used to getting content for free on YouTube. What sort of content do they think someone's going to pay for?

SYDELL: Hah, good question. You know, I spoke with one analyst, and that's exactly what he was wondering. But he also mentioned some intriguing possibilities. For example, you could have a San Francisco Giants channel that had backstories about the players, conversations about what was going on in the locker room -before and after - and it's the kind of content that, you know, a die hard fan might really pay for but wouldn't really work on traditional TV because it's kind of too narrowly focused.

CORNISH: And it seems like the world of online content that you can pay for is growing - I mean, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and now YouTube.

SYDELL: Exactly. And the number of subscribers to Hulu doubled to four million. And Netflix has been growing, so I think it's a question now of how many places do you want to subscribe as we move forward. But there's going to be a lot more of this.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Laura Sydell. Laura, thank you.

SYDELL: You're welcome.

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