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Can YouTube get us to pay for ad-free cat videos?

Dan Weissmann Apr 9, 2015
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Google is reportedly planning an ad-free version of its YouTube service, for which users will pay around $10 per month. Netflix has amassed millions of paying customers for its streaming video, and just this week, HBO launched a stand-alone streaming service. 

Getting users to pay for ad-free cat videos seems worth a shot, says Brian Wieser, an analyst with Pivotal Research.  “If you could sell content that costs you nothing— and charge a very premium price for that inventory — it’s worth trying, isn’t it?” 

He does think it’s a long shot. Asked whether people hate ads enough to pay a fee to skip them, Wieser called the idea “silly.”

Although lots of people pay for Netflix, he doesn’t think YouTube is real competition. 

“‘House of Cards’ will be meeting people building houses with cards,” Wieser says.

Count Hank Green among those who think the new model is worth a shot. He earns his living making YouTube videos, and says he’s got 33 employees.

His channels include Vlogbrothers, with his brother John, who wrote the best-selling young-adult novel, “The Fault in Our Stars”.

Another, Crash Course, features education videos.

Hank Green says he hates advertisements.

“I much prefer the paid models to advertising models,” he says. “I think advertising models are inefficient, and I hate seeing ads that are blatantly manipulative — and even deceptive — on my content.”  

What’s been working for him recently is asking viewers for support directly. Not everybody has to give, he says— just enough.

“So really it’s not about creating content that everybody wants to watch,” Green says. “It’s about creating content where people say, after they watch it: ‘You know, I’d feel better if I paid for that.'”

It sounds suspiciously like, well, public radio.

Later, Green wrote back with a response to the “House of Cards” swipe:

“If you’re one of the 5,000 super die hard card-stackers in the world,” he wrote, “maybe videos of people building houses of cards is more valuable to you than House of Cards, is what I should have said.” 

How We Survive
How We Survive
Climate change is here. Experts say we need to adapt. This series explores the role of technology in helping humanity weather the changes ahead.