YouTube Premium, formerly known as YouTube Red, launches on Monday 18th June in the UK following its release in the US earlier this year.
The new paid-for service offers subscribers access to a host of new features on YouTube, including the ability to download videos, stream videos with the app in the background, as well as exclusive access to original content.
A separate music streaming service and app (YouTube Music, which functions like the Spotify and Apple music apps) will also be available.
Ahead of the launch, we spoke with YouTube’s Head of Originals for Europe, Luke Hyams, who gave us a full briefing on what exactly YouTube Premium offers – as well as what it means for free YouTube in the future.
What is YouTube Premium?
YouTube Premium is a subscription service designed to offer heavy YouTube users additional content and services designed to make their viewing experience better.
Luke Hyams explains that much of this comes down to functions that aren’t currently available on the free YouTube site and app.
“If they’re big fans of music and use YouTube for music, they’ll get a brand new music app,” he explains. “If they love the main YouTube platform, they’ll get the ability to have seamless plays without adverts, to download videos and to also listen to videos with the screen of your phone off or in other apps.”
But that’s not all. In addition to the new functions, YouTube Premium members will get access to exclusive shows and original programming, content that won’t be available anywhere else.
Hyams says that programmes on offer “have been inspired by viewing trends on the main YouTube platform,” but that these ‘original series’ are only part of the story.
YouTube already has so many viewers; it’s free and everyone loves it being free,” he says. “So what we’re asking people to pay for is not just additional shows: it’s functionality, and it’s a musical element as well.”
How much will YouTube Premium cost?
The full service is priced at £11.99 per month in the UK, which includes all the bonus functions, YouTube Music and exclusive shows. There is also a YouTube Premium ‘Family Plan’ for £14.99 per month (which will allow up to six people to share the account, provided everyone lives in the same household and is over the age of 13).
However, YouTube is also offering users the chance to try YouTube Premium for three months before deciding whether it’s worth paying for.
If users just want to access music, there is a separate YouTube Music subscription which will cost £9.99 – but it won’t grant users access to original programming.
YouTube Music will also be available for free with ads.
What exclusive shows will YouTube Premium stream in the UK?
Hyams says that the UK service will launch with two new original series featuring familiar YouTube stars, with the two shows joining other series including Cobra Kai and Impulse.
“The Sidemen Show are seven YouTubers who’ve formed a super group out of the UK. Their videos are full of camaraderie, and they do really fun challenges, and we just thought, ‘How do we collaborate with them to give them the kind of financial support and expertise to do what they already do but on a much bigger scale, and a scale that their fans will be interested in paying to see?'”
But this is just the beginning, Hyams says, with more ambitious series still to come.
“They’re creating a really rich series, laden with the right balance of character and scale. And that’s a really exciting example of a big drama that we’re going to be producing.”
Subscribers to streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video have come to expect exclusive series to be part of the package, but with so much free video available on YouTube, Hyams says that the company needs to have a clear idea of how its original series fit into the wider YouTube service.
“First of all, YouTube was built on personality. It’s the connection between people at home and people on screen that have made this such a success story,” he says. “So I have to ask the difficult question of, ‘How can we actually upscale this in a way that makes sense for the audience?’
“You know, putting a load of budget into a show about a guy that puts coolant in engines might not help that content. Maybe it’s good in its pure form. We just have to think of what’s creatively ripe for the shows that we create for YouTube Originals.”
How will YouTube Premium affect free YouTube content?
Hyams says that while they are working with current stars to produce higher budget, longform programming, that programming will primarily serve as a “bonus” to the content that they are already producing on their own channels.
“Just think bigger,” he says. “These bigger projects are definitely elevated from what’s going on on the main channel. However, with Bill and Jez from F2 Freestylers, they will continue to post throughout the first period that the show is uploaded. It won’t interrupt their schedule in any way, shape or form – it’s like a bonus project for their fans.”
It also won’t necessarily limit the more elaborate programmes that YouTube have made available for free in the past, such as Jack Whitehall Training Days, a six-part pre-World Cup series that saw the comedian playing games with the likes of José Mourinho, Gareth Bale and Raheem Sterling.
“The Jack Whitehall Training Days is kind of a different story,” he says. “That is in front of the paywall, and the thinking behind that is, that show was just commissioned to be a part of the specific moment on YouTube, which was the run-up to this year’s World Cup.”
The majority of the premium content for now, he says, will be more ‘evergreen’: “We want premium to create a bank of really solid shows that, as we roll out around the world, different people can come to them and enjoy them.”
Will YouTube Premium focus on younger audiences?
Not quite. Hyams says that the view that YouTube is a young person’s service is a “massive misconception”
“A lot of the famous YouTubers are people who talk to a younger audience, and a lot of them had such a strong pick-up with younger people who have basically known that as their main way of consuming video for all of their life if they’re under 13,” he says. “But we have the data to show that YouTube is an across-the-ages success story. Every different age is going on YouTube, often for different purposes. Young people going for slime videos, older people going to figure out how to put coolant in their engine.”
He continued: “There’s a load of different ways that people of different ages are enjoying it. So we wanted to make sure that the premium offering as well would feel premium and still different to the stuff that is readily available on the platform.”
While YouTube has experimented in recent years by streaming the Champions League Final as part of a deal with BT Sport, Hyams says this is not on their priority list at the moment. “We’re always looking for new ways to engage with football fans in the right way,” he says. “For the moment, my remit is really thinking about how original programming can serve the various fanbases on YouTube. So, I think it’s much more likely that we’ll have shows that celebrate the culture rather than actual games on YouTube, for right now.”
Will YouTube’s biggest stars like Zoella start going behind the paywall?
It’s possible, but not necessarily a guarantee. Hyams is adamant that YouTube is only going to invest in programming that will benefit from a bigger budget and further creative – which likely won’t be the case for someone like Zoella, who seems to be doing just fine on her own.
“If we find the right concept to do together, and someone like Zoella feels the opportunity to do some sort of creative thing she would like to provide her audience with that she can’t do on her own, then definitely we could work with her to make a show, absolutely,” he says.
“I think it’s one of these important things where we’re not going to try and put a square peg into a round hole. We’ve got to make sure that the stuff that we invest in actually feels like it’s an elevation that is connected to the stuff that is already on the main channel.”
How will YouTube Music work?
YouTube Music will function just like Apple Music and Spotify before it: by providing unlimited access to a gigantic library of music via a smartphone app/web browser. It will allow users to stream music without ads, and without videos.
The service will also offer full albums, remixes, live performances and covers that are often only easy to find on YouTube.
“What we’re really trying to do is draw focus to that, offer curated playlists, and the ability to not have to watch with the videos: to have a separate music player that comes up, either in your browser as a new tab or a separate music app, that allows you to have access to the catalogue of music on YouTube,” Hyams says.
What countries is YouTube Premium available in?
The UK is one of 17 countries where YouTube Premium is now available. The US was the first country to have the service, but from Monday 18th June it can be accessed in the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Mexico as well as Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Is this the end of free YouTube?
Hyams is adamant that YouTube is not going to stop being a free service just because there’s now YouTube Premium. “I don’t think so – not in any way, shape or form,” he says.
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news