In October 2016, Youtube decided to enter the arena of paid streaming subscriptions, alongside the likes of Netflix, Hooq, and iFlix. Their premium service, Youtube Red (currently available only in the U.S., Mexico, Australia, Korea, and New Zealand), promotes exclusive features to enhance the viewing experience—including no more ads. For those who detest the inconvenience of sitting through those pre-video commercials, Red has a solution if you’re willing to spend money on such a luxury.
For US$9.99 (approx. PHP 500) a month, Youtube Red offers, in addition their ad-free experience, a subscription with Google Music, access to original content produced by Youtube’s top creators, and two new installations for the mobile app; a background audio feature that continues playing videos while users browse other apps, and offline viewing, which lets users save videos to a folder where they can watch at a later time, without connecting to the Internet or using up data.
Many people look at the cost for Youtube Red and wonder, Is it really worth it? And, Do I need this? In regards to the first question, a Google Music account on its own is the same price as Youtube Red, so already you’re getting more bang for your buck. Looking at the second question, well, quite frankly, the answer is still up for debate.
Pros: The Mobile App
For anyone with a long commute, especially those taking public transit, the offline viewing feature can easily be the solution for stubborn data-savers. Now you don’t have to flip through your Photo Stream just because it is one of the few things a smart-phone can do without WiFi. Additionally, the background-listening feature makes it possible to multitask while watching Youtube. Videos play uninterrupted even when the app is minimized, allowing users to quickly send texts, browse the web, and simply treat videos like a podcast. These features, at the very least, make the viewing experience much more streamlined and enjoyable.
Cons: The Red Originals
The cornerstone of the Youtube Red package, their original content, fails to impress. The general consensus is that some shows are significantly better than others. Unless they have a background specifically in performing arts, many Youtube creators are more like reality-tv personalities than real actors. This is painfully evident in Red’s scripted content, where the acting ranges from passable to downright cringe-worthy. While most of these big Youtubers built a following by filming and acting in their own sketch videos, that experience doesn’t translate well in a professionally made web series.
Youtube’s strength lies in personality-driven content: Red Original series like Scare PewDiePie or MatPat’s Game Lab almost function as “game shows,” where the Youtube celebrity act as both the host and the contestant. For their Red exclusive series, video-game fanatics PewDiePie and MatPat essentially recreate scenarios from popular games as real life challenges. This concept is quintessential Youtube with a bigger budget: capturing genuine reactions to hilarious, bizarre circumstances.
Likewise, Red’s exclusive feature length documentaries, the two most notable being Lilly Singh’s A Trip to Unicorn Island and Gigi Gorgeous’s This Is Everything, easily surpass the quality of their other scripted films, which are about as funny as the sub-par teen comedy. Driven by the inspiring stories of Singh’s success and Gig’s journey as a transgender teen, the documentaries are clearly more compelling movies.
Of course, money is also a huge factor. Out of their selection of scripted shows, CollegeHumor’s Bad Internet is one series that ranks highly in Red’s arsenal. Considering this sketch comedy series manages to pull in actors like Will Arnett and Jack McBrayer for guest-starring roles, it definitely has a sizable budget. Unfortunately, the wealth isn’t equally distributed, leaving smaller productions with shows that have more potential as concepts rather than in their execution. In the same vein, most of Red’s content reflects a similar aesthetic to that of a well-made student film: good visual work, but operating with limited resources. Considering the high caliber of streamable content available to consumers on Netflix, et al (for a lower price), Youtube Red simply doesn’t measure up to the competition.
To answer the question posed earlier, Do you need Youtube Red? Probably not. At the very least, the Philippines is not missing any ground-breaking advances in the world of online-video sharing. For potential Red subscribers, if you plan on taking advantage of every single feature they offer, then perhaps it is worth considering. Additionally, despite the mixed reviews surrounding Red’s original content, the subscription may still appeal to parents of younger children, since some of their shows (including a Disney produced series) seem to target the middle-school age demographic. All in all, the idea of returning to an ad-free Youtube is a tempting offer, but it seems that pre-roll commercials have become a necessary evil that our generation has already adapted to.