YouTube is experimenting with releasing movies entirely for free online.
The video giant is one of the biggest websites in the world, fuelled by its large community and ever-expanding library of uploaded content. Most of that is available for free, with adverts before or beside it, a model that has seen the steaming platform grow and grow over the last decade.
In recent years, YouTube has taken a leaf out of Netflix’s book and added its own subscription offering – YouTube Premium – which gives subscribers access to exclusive and original content, as well as the rest of the site entirely ad-free. At the same time, though, it has also been investing in original content that doesn’t require a subscription, as it toys with brand partnerships that can bring in revenue through adverts. Now, it’s rolling out that approach to feature films.
You can already buy and rent movies through YouTube, which essentially acts as a storefront for Google Play Movies & TV. But YouTube is also releasing movies for free, legally, online, with some embedded ads to fund the model.
“We saw this opportunity based on user demand, beyond just offering paid movies,” Youtube’s Rohit Dhawan told AdAge. “Can we do ad-supported movies, free to the user? It also presents a nice opportunity for advertisers.”
Indeed, YouTube is increasingly looking to appease advertisers and woo them to the site through new opportunities – and specifically, trustworthy, safe opportunities, after several companies left the service due to their ads appearing next to extremist or other inappropriate content. It also offers studios a chance to boost the digital shelf life of older titles. While the exact split of revenue from ads isn’t known, there is the potential for YouTube to build on this trial and offer partners the chance to sponsor special or free releases on the site, as YouTube positions itself as a possible digital equivalent to the limbo in which TV rights for movies are snapped up by linear broadcasters.
Needless to say, the experiment is only being conducted with a limited number of films and solely in the USA for now: around 100 movies are available for free on YouTube, all dating back a considerable way, including Rocky, The Terminator, Zookeeper and Legally Blonde.