YouTube Red lands next week and streaming services best be scared

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Google’s YouTube, the biggest content streaming service in the world, is launching its paid-for, ad-free service called YouTube Red in the US next week (28 October) and offering users a month to try it out before committing to the $10/month subscription. Given YouTube’s massive and ever-growing catalogue of content, and the fact it’s the de facto music streaming service for cash-strapped teens, existing music and video streaming services best pay close attention.

What will YouTube Red offer that the existing service doesn’t? Ad-free viewing, the ability to store content offline and the ability to switch apps while keeping the service playing in the background. The last of these is a bit of a cheeky addition considering YouTube users have been asking for it for years and implementing it evidently had nothing to do with technical challenges and everything to do with making money.

Users will also get access to YouTube Games and YouTube Music. “Your membership extends across devices and anywhere you sign into YouTube, including our recently launched Gaming app and a brand new YouTube Music app we’re announcing today that will be available soon,” says Matt Leske, YouTube’s senior product manager, on the official YouTube Blog’s post about the new service.

YouTube Music is a music discovery service. Put in a track or artist you like and it’ll suggest other things from the immense YouTube catalogue that its algorithms think you’ll like. Oh, and if you’ve already got a paid Google Play Music account you’ll get access to Google Play Music (or vice versa). And that’s the potentially really scary thing for existing streaming services — if a YouTube Red subscription can give you access to most of the video and audio you want for $10 a month why pay other services for only some of that content?

Perhaps, as Netflix has demonstrated, it’s going to come down to exclusive content. Netflix’s original series continue to be a massive drawcard for the service. They’re designed to match users’ viewing preferences, are performing incredibly well and make it increasingly difficult for would-be rivals to compete.

But YouTube isn’t some upstart startup with grand ideas but without user data or means. Being part of Google means YouTube not only has access to plenty of funding and can play a very long game indeed (as it did in its formative, loss-making years) and probably has access to more data on users’ preferences than any other company in the world.

For now the standard, free, ad-laden version of YouTube will continue to function as usual, but we imagine YouTube will find all sorts of ways to encourage users to consider signing up for YouTube Red, whether it’s by offering exclusive content, throwing money at celebrities to endorse it, making all ads un-skippable (or even more annoying than they are now) or, perhaps, even using those very same ads to promote the service.

YouTube Red is only launching in the US next week, with assurances that more regions will follow soon, but if you’re really eager to try it out you can always sign up for a VPN service and make it look like you’re in the US. Or so we hear.

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