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YouTube CEO and community can’t agree on what YouTube Red is

What, exactly, is YouTube Red?

YouTube Red is a music platform, according to the company’s CEO, but that’s not how most creators view the service’s premium content.

CEO Susan Wojcicki told Recode’s Kara Swisher during CodeCon that YouTube Red is “really a music service,” noting that it gives people the ability to listen to music and “watch all these music videos.” While YouTube Red also allows people to watch videos ad-free, the main point Wojcicki wanted to make about YouTube Red was that it’s a music service.

As one gentleman told Wojcicki later in a Q&A, this is one of the first times that many people have heard YouTube refer to its premium content platform as a “music service.”

There’s nothing wrong with Wojcicki calling YouTube Red a music platform if that’s how the company views its $9.99 service, but it’s a sign of further disconnect between the CEO and the community at large. Most creators see YouTube Red as a platform for high-quality, Hollywood-type series and films they can’t make on their own. Creators like Smosh, Poppy and Rhett and Link have all received their own YouTube Red series over the years, while PewDiePie and Logan Paul had and later lost their shows.

Matt Raub, director of content at Smosh Games, told Polygon in October 2017 that YouTube Red helps differentiate between everyday content on YouTube and series that could compete with Netflix and Hulu. Raub said:

You’ve got your YouTube where everyone can be a creator and you’re just a person with a cellphone sitting in a bedroom making a video, and other creators working on projects where someone is dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars on someone making a professional TV show. So YouTube Red kind of draws a line. With YouTube Red you’re being able to do something like Buddy System or A Ghost Show, where it’s taken a lot of time and energy and it’s taken a little more seriously because it’s on a platform that is treated differently. We’ve done on YouTube Red series to produced our own film and I think it’s a good thing, not a bad thing, but we’re just in the very early stages of it.

Raub’s not alone in the way he thinks about YouTube Red. YouTube’s head of global content, Susanne Daniels, told a group of reporters in 2016 that YouTube wanted Red to compete with Netflix and Hulu, working with A-list actors and directors to ensure those paying for YouTube Red received premium content. Documentarian Morgan Spurlock called YouTube Red “the new studio, the new network.”

“YouTube is all in on original content,” Daniels said. “We want to open Hollywood’s rolodex and introduce our creators to visionary directors, writers and producers.”

Wojcicki disagrees. The CEO told Swisher that, as much as she would love to have a The Handmaid’s Tale or House of Cards on YouTube, the company isn’t actively looking to spend billions of dollars on investing in competitive content.

“We could, but I’m not sure that would further what we’re trying to do at YouTube,” Wojcicki said.

The company wants to continue investing in its creators and their specific content — from educational to beauty and even vlogging — instead, according to Wojcicki, who also suggest that more creators could receive YouTube Red series.

“Our goal is to be a large, leading video platform and have a large diverse set of content,” Wojcicki said. “There are all these categories that no one is really providing a solution to and we can be best at breeding there. Shows and movies is a very competitive space; it needs to be paid for economically with a subscription service.”

The issue is that YouTube Red series aren’t receiving the same critical acclaim that Netflix and Hulu’s series are, and that’s something Wojcicki is aware of. Whereas YouTube Red series aren’t as popular with subscribers, music videos are — but music videos are free on YouTube with Vevo. Music videos aren’t a big selling point. Just ask Tidal.

It’s hard to sell YouTube Red as a service satisfying a specific hunger when executives at YouTube can’t agree on what that need is.

The discussion over why people sign up for YouTube Red is endless. Wojcicki thinks it’s a music service; Daniels and Raub think it’s a premium TV and film content platform. But most importantly, creators don’t see it as a valuable support system for them and the millions of others uploading content.

Hank Green is one of YouTube’s more popular creators. Although he can see the advantages to YouTube Red, he doesn’t think it’s the best way for creators to be supported.

“It’s not a bad deal for creators, but I doubt it will be a particularly huge deal per subscriber,” Green wrote on Medium. “Only if there’s mass adoption of the system will we see the bottom line changing significantly for creators. If you’re paying $10 per month to support creators, it would be way more advantageous for you to divide that up as a number of low-level Patreon pledges, or possibly just put it toward buying merch.”

YouTube Red isn’t a bad subscription service; it’s also not a particularly great one. The issue is that no one really knows what YouTube Red is supposed to be.

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