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Should YouTube Introduce Subscription Fees for Film and Television?

In an interview published by Reuters yesterday afternoon Google’s vice president of content partnerships, David Eun, outlined some long term plans for the popular internet video sharing website YouTube.   Most importantly Eun explained that Google were considering introducing a subscription based model for access to full length films and television shows.  Despite being one of the most visited websites on the Internet, YouTube has struggled to find a method of effectively monetising the traffic.  It is easy to see how the proposition of subscription funded premium content would be desirable for both YouTube and the TV and Film networks that are constantly facing threats from online piracy.


The television and film industries are now facing the same problems with online distribution that have been plaguing the music industry for the last few years.  Thankfully, having no doubt taken notes from how badly the music industry were burned by online piracy, the TV and film industries appear to be far more open to the necessary changes that will need made to fit in online.  Is a mandatory subscription fee the best approach for the media industries to move in though?

Personally, I feel the biggest problem that these industries are facing at the moment is two-fold.  Firstly, and most obviously, the content is already appearing for free elsewhere, and the biggest issue with trying to monetise media online is persuading a person to pay for something that is already available very easily for free (be it legally or illegally).  This is especially true with television where people often feel like they are already paying through TV subscriptions; for example if someone forgets to record a show using sky plus one night is it all that morally wrong to download it? In the US a free, advert-funded streaming service, Hulu, has proven incredibly successful for its parent companies NBC, News Corporation and Disney who distribute content online via the service.  Programs go live on Hulu shortly after being broadcast and retain the adverts thus creating an additional revenue stream from viewers who would likely have watched an illegal stream prior to Hulu’s launch.  In the UK channel 4 provide a similar service through 4OD and, like Hulu, the service has proven hugely popular.


However the mention of Hulu brings us onto the second key factor:  the Internet is a completely global medium and content providers desperately need to acknowledge this.  Typically television shows are broadcast first in their native markets, for example big US dramas premier in America and make their way to other countries much later, while BBC programming will broadcast in the UK far in advance of its US release.  The problem is that this set-up simply does not work in a worldwide, interconnected space like the Internet, where people from all over the world interact via forums, blogs and social networking sites with no regard for international borders.  In this connected world people don’t want to miss out on the discussion around their favourite TV show, or even worse have to avoid entire websites for fear of series endings being spoiled.  Instead they will illegally download or stream one of the readily available copies to keep up to date.  Hulu is definitely onto the right idea by supplying TV shows online, but they fail to account for the fact that an enormous number of people that download television illegally don’t do it to save money or avoid adverts but simply because television networks are flat-out refusing to provide a legal way to access the show in a timely fashion to international viewers.

It has taken a while to get there but, with Spotify, it feels like the music industry finally has the right idea.  Spotify allows users to stream an enormous amount of music online and lets the listeners decide whether to have adverts play intermittently or alternatively pay a monthly subscription fee which allows them to listen uninterrupted.  This scenario really does seem the best approach for both listeners and record companies and is an example that the television and film industries would be wise to pay attention to.


I think that in order to maintain success in an increasingly interconnected, online world traditional media companies need to completely rethink their strategies.  In my opinion the best approach will be to launch and promote free, advert based streaming sites, much like Hulu, but instead of blocking users from particular countries they should generate localised advertising.  Many informational websites have been doing this for years, for example when I access ign.com from the UK I am redirected to uk.ign.com where adverts are tailored to my location.  This is beneficial to me as I can access the content I desire and it is beneficial for the site who generate revenue from international markets.  This system could then be taken one step further and offer users the option to pay a subscription fee to remove the adverts altogether, much like Spotify does for the music industry.

What are your opinions on watching television online?  Do you find that you use services like Hulu or 4OD (or possibly more nefarious websites) and could you see yourself paying a company like YouTube a subscription fee to access premium content?

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