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YouTube takes on Netflix

Google’s video platform YouTube is taking its first major steps into the realm of original content; at NewFronts this week, the company announced plans to produce six brand new shows which will be made available online for free. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and comedian Kevin Hart are both working on unscripted programmes which will air later this year.

These half-dozen shows are the first of 40 planned series which will drop over the next 12 months, marking YouTube’s planned evolution into a new home for TV.  The platform is no stranger to original content, making its name on user-generated creativity and launching the careers of a new niche of superstars, but the free-for-all nature of YouTube has often meant that the wheat is vastly dwarfed by the chaff.

“We’re working with YouTube stars and big celebrities that we know have global appeal, advertiser appeal and are largely established on the platform,” says Susanne Daniels, YouTube’s Head of Original Content.

Unlike subscription-based streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, YouTube’s original programming will be supported by ads. “We’re turning the infrastructure we’ve built for original programming into supporting our biggest partners,’’ says YouTube’s Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl. “Nobody is doing it the way we are. Nobody can release originals on a global basis with the scale we have in advertising.’’

Google is also stepping up its spending on YouTube Red, its paid, ad-free video streaming platform. Red is widely speculated to be the future home of YouTube’s premium content, in the vein of HBO or Showtime, according to Bloomberg.

It’s smart of Google to invest in an ad-free channel; thanks to Netflix, the average media consumer expects an uninterrupted binge-watching experience. (Although Red will have to bring its A-game, content-wise, if it expects viewers to stump up another $9.99 per month.)

But the most interesting thing about YouTube’s new content plans by far is the possibility of high-quality programming being made freely available through ad partnerships. The majority of exciting new TV shows right now, from Game of Thrones to American Gods, are being released through premium services, and the cost of keeping up with the latest must-see TV can build up. If YouTube is able to debut the next great prestige drama on its platform, free of charge, that might spark an exciting new twist on an old model.

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