YouTube is testing a members-only videos feature

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Now that Facebook has started to sell subscriptions to publishers’ videos, publishers hope that YouTube will follow suit. And the Google-owned video platform appears poised to do so, stretching its existing subscription product in a way that it could be used to supplement media companies’ standalone subscription-based streaming video services.

After introducing its Memberships program in June 2018 to sell subscriptions for individual YouTube channels, YouTube has begun testing an option for channels to upload members-only videos, according to a document published to the platform’s support forum. A YouTube spokesperson did not provide a comment by press time.

That members-only videos option would enable publishers to upload the same videos available on their SVOD services to their YouTube channels without cannibalizing with their subscription businesses. It could also help to attract more paid members because anyone is able to see these paywalled videos on the publisher’s YouTube channel but only paid members are able to watch it. Non-subscribers are shown a message informing them that the video is only available to subscribers and directing them to sign up for a paid membership.

At the same time as YouTube is beginning to enable member-only videos, the platform has opened up its memberships program this year by adding different price tiers. Those pricing tiers — which range from $0.99 to $49.99 a month — would help publishers to avoid having to discount their subscription rates for YouTube and enable them to set prices for YouTube that take into account the platform’s 30% cut of subscription revenue.

It could also help attract more paid members because anyone would be able to see these paywalled videos on the publisher’s YouTube channel but only paid members are be able to watch it. Non-subscribers are shown a message informing them that the video is only available to subscribers and directing them to sign up for a paid membership.

Publishers already have plenty of platforms, including Amazon, Apple, Roku and now Facebook, offering to sell video subscriptions on publishers’ behalf. However, while Amazon, in particular, has been a boon for TV networks’ subscription-based streaming video businesses, non-TV publishers consider themselves to be at a disadvantage when selling subscriptions through Amazon, Roku or Apple where audiences may be less familiar with their videos and where these publishers must compete against the likes of CBS All Access, HBO and Showtime.

These non-TV publishers believe they may be better off selling subscriptions through platforms like Facebook and YouTube where they have established video audiences that may be more likely to subscribe. That potential spurred publishers like MotorTrend Group to opt to become one of the first media companies to join Facebook’s video subscription sales program.

“I wish that YouTube would do it. We have an audience of over 6 million followers on YouTube. I would love to offer all of our content there direct to consumer,” said Alex Wellen, global president and gm of MotorTrend Group.

Publishers including MotorTrend Group have been using YouTube to acquire subscribers for their streaming services, such as by adding links in videos’ descriptions that direct people to the publishers’ sites to sign up for a subscription. On July 21, MotorTrend Group uploaded to its YouTube channel the first full episode of its show “Throttle Out” that is otherwise only available on the publisher’s subscription service. “We spent an intense amount of time thinking about how do we offer real content on the YouTube channel to those fans, introduce them to the SVOD service and make it really easy for them to sign up for our SVOD service,” said Wellen.

An exec at another publisher who asked to remain anonymous has similarly used YouTube to drive subscriptions for its SVOD service and said the effort has been “hugely successful” but declined to say how many subscribers YouTube has contributed.

However, for whatever success publishers are currently having in converting YouTube viewers into SVOD subscribers, they would likely fare even better if people didn’t need to click a link to sign up for a subscription on a publisher’s site but could instead sign up within YouTube, like they can within Facebook.

While YouTube’s members-only video test would help publishers to extend their subscription video businesses to YouTube, publishers hold out hope that the platform’s subscription sales program would go further to more closely resemble Facebook’s program.

The social network has taken the model that Amazon, Roku and Apple have embraced and expanded it to make it more flexible for publishers and seemingly a better bargain for subscribers. If someone subscribes to a publisher’s video content through Amazon or Roku, they are limited to watching the publisher’s videos within those companies’ own video services, such as Amazon Prime Video and Roku Channel. By contrast, Facebook’s subscription program allows people who buy a subscription directly from a participating publisher to access that publisher’s subscriber-only videos on Facebook and also allows Facebook subscribers to access their subscriptions on publishers’ own properties, such as their subscription-based OTT apps. Apple’s subscription program appears to also allow subscribers to access their subscriptions on publishers’ own properties.

A third publishing exec described Facebook’s subscription-authentication feature, which is optional for publishers, as akin to the TV Everywhere model that allows people to stream shows on TV networks’ sites and OTT apps after signing in with their traditional pay-TV accounts. “It creates an opportunity to rethink the bundle,” said this exec.

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