Now, some of you might be reading the title and think you're about to read something on "Why I Think YouTube Paid Subscriptions Will Work," but that's not the case here. Variety is reporting that some of the early adopters have expressed concern about how many people they're getting to subscribe since the program launched in May. The problem is, as many of you know, getting people to pay for channels on YouTube is already a huge uphill climb. But it's too early to decide whether the numbers these early adopters are seeing is a function of disinterest from the masses, or some other factor.
The Variety of Factors in YouTube Paid Subscription Success
First off, remember that these channels didn't exactly have name recognition when they were launched. Which channel did we hear about the most? Sesame Street, which says they are happy with their numbers so far.
Paid subscription channels have a problem: how do you "advertise" your content, which is behind a paywall? Most channels have a two-week free trial period, but even with that, there's a huge disadvantage: no embedding. What makes YouTube channels popular? It's when their content can be spread around through e-mails, blogs, websites, and social media. You can't do that with subscription channels.
Early thoughts from Vimeo's "Vimeo on Demand" seemed to point to showing some content for free, and if the viewers liked it enough, they could pay for it later. It's extremely hard to attract buyers when they don't know what the content is. That's why movies have previews. Sesame Street obviously has a huge advantage here, since people know what they're getting into before they pay the fee.
One of the first thoughts I had when YouTube announced paid subscriptions is that people would have to have two channels to run it: a channel of free content that would be representative of the paid channel. Maybe you "tease" content with trailers, getting people to want to know more. Maybe you create the best "unsubscribed trailer" that you can, hoping that a flash of highlights will be enough. Sesame Street, which doesn't really need it, has two channels: the free one where they come out with representative content, and the paid one, where people can watch full episodes of the series.
And how much other incentive is there to pay for the subscription? Maybe some of these channels should start handing out T-shirts or gifts or something. One of the channels worried about their early returns is National Geographic Kids. I'm pretty sure there are a great amount of incentives National Geographic could put out there to attract an audience.
But even after all that, even if every last bit of work goes into the channel, there's still the monthly fee that will be the sticking point for many. It's a tough deal to make attractive when there's so much free content on the site. At the same time, it's way too early to be calling the program a failure. Most free channels have a hard time getting viewers, too. Not only that, most successful channels need more than two months to build an audience. Whether paid or free, all of these channels have to do something to make themselves attractive to viewers. Many of these channels are going to have to get creative, and tell people why they should pay the money.