YouTube will roll out its paid subscription service, YouTube Red, in to up to 100 countries around the world, according to CEO Susan Wojcicki. Speaking at Recode’s Code Media conference, Wojcicki didn’t name specifically which countries, or give a timetable for when those countries can expect YouTube Red to launch, but the announcement confirms that the company still has big ambitions for its paid service.
YouTube Red was first released back in 2018 in the US, and his since launched in Australia, Mexico, New Zealand and South Korea. The service originally allowed subscribers to watch all YouTube videos without ads, and also came bundled with membership to Google’s music subscription service, Google Play Music.
The product has since expanded into original content, known as YouTube Red Originals, which have so far consisted mostly of content featuring some of YouTube’s more popular channels, but has also included bigger budget content from production studios, including a series based on the ‘Step Up’ film franchise.
It has, however, been slow to open up to the rest of the world. Wojcicki suggested that the reason for this was partly due to YouTube holding back on launching until issues around music licensing rights were resolved. “Now that we’ve finished all of our music deals, we’re going to be expanding to a larger number of countries,” she said at the Recode conference.
However some have speculated that Red’s slow roll out has been due to a poor uptake in the countries it has released in. YouTube keeps its subscription numbers quiet, but reports suggest that the company has struggled to drive sign-ups. A report from The Verge back in 2016, around one year after YouTube Red’s launch, claimed it had just 1.5 million paying subscribers, with an extra 1 million signed up to a free trial.
The brand safety concerns which have plagued YouTube also spilled in to Red. YouTube’s most subscribed creator PewDiePie drew controversy thanks to controversial jokes made on his channel, leading YouTube to cancel his Red series ‘Scare PewDiePie’ last year. Similarly Logan Paul, a YouTuber who attracted criticism for a video which made light of suicide, had been set to launch a Red series, which has now been cancelled.
Some have taken these teething problems as a sign that Red is failing, but Wojcicki’s announcement suggests that whatever the current subscription rates really are, YouTube believes Red can become a success (if it isn’t already).
Wojcicki also suggested that YouTube Red will continue to focus on smaller scale content, rather than the sorts of high budget shows being invested in by Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Apple. While she agreed that YouTube Red would love to create a show as successful as Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, she said YouTube would prefer to play to its strengths. When asked if YouTube would create its own ‘House of Cards’, Wojcicki replied “we could, but I’m not sure further necessarily what we’re trying to do at YouTube.