July 23, 2019 | 67° F

TECH TUESDAY: Benefits, costs of new streaming service YouTube Red

Photo by Edwin Gano |

YouTube's going after Spotify, Netflix and Twitch all under one service.

When I first heard that YouTube was adding a premium tier to their existing advertisement-supported streaming structure, I was skeptical because I didn't know who would shell out money just for an ad-free experience. Many Americans are already paying for multiple subscription services, such as Netflix for movies and TV, Amazon Prime for shopping and Spotify for music. I couldn't imagine that the idea of paying for another would go down well in most people's minds. But YouTube has decided to launch a new streaming service called YouTube Red.

YouTube Red has three primary selling points — an ad-free experience, background streaming and offline downloading. YouTube Red will be replacing the Google Play Music Key/Unlimited Service (subscribers of Google Play Music Unlimited are upgraded to the YouTube Red service and get to keep their "early-adopter" price), and YouTube is going to start producing movies and TV.

But $9.99 per month is still pretty expensive, and whether it has any value for you, especially if you're a college student, largely comes down to your personal preferences and entertainment habits. Nonetheless, let's take a closer look, and assess the value of each of the features. 

1. Ad-free
Having an ad-free experience is more of a convenience than anything else, since you're saving a couple of seconds per video that you watch.

Who it's for: a person who is very tired of those 'you can't skip this ad, because it's already over Geico commercials, or a person whose time is worth a lot of money. Let's say on average, you watch two YouTube videos, with two four-second skippable advertisements, you would be saving about 49 minutes in a year.

Who it's not for: everyone who's on a budget.

2. Background Streaming

Now you can watch or listen to your YouTube videos while texting your friends, playing a game or turning off your phone. Seeing as most of your favorite songs have accompanying music videos, it is entirely possible to just play those on YouTube and forgo other music streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. Which brings me to the Google Play Music subscription service. This service was criticized in the past for having a library that wasn't as big as nor as good of a value ($7.99 per month) for what you get compared to the competition. That changes now, as YouTube Red takes over this service — when you find a song that's not in the Google Play Music library, you can simply search for and stream it from YouTube. But taking a step back, consider that this feature might not work as well on iOS devices as it would on Android devices, and switching to YouTube Red might take some effort, especially if you're a dedicated user of another music-streaming service.

Who it's for: existing Google Play Music Key subscribers, music aficionados, people looking to switch from other services and multi-taskers.

Who it's not for: If you're not already paying for a music service, this might not be enough to convince you to start. 

3. Offline Downloading

It is common for music services to allow you to download music for offline listening, but videos? Amazon Prime has only recently started allowing customers to download content, XFINITY only allows the downloading of 'Premium' channel content and Netflix has not allowed it at all. The idea that you can download any of the 50-million-plus videos on YouTube is pretty extraordinary.

Who it's for: People who are offline for a large part of their day or don't want to use data, people who enjoy watching YouTube videos, gamers and music-listeners.

Who it's not for: People who have access to the internet whenever they want to watch YouTube videos.

Other Thoughts

YouTube has stated that it is going to start producing original serials and movies à la Netflix and Amazon Prime, and has already commissioned famous YouTuber "PewDiePie" and others for this purpose. But YouTube is a little late to the party. 

Netflix and Amazon already have a couple years of experience in making critically acclaimed shows and movies like "House of Cards." Consider that it will take some time for YouTube to start getting their shows to the market and that they're competing in an already established market — so it might not be the best decision to commit right now.

For dedicated gamers, the ability to play videos in the background and download videos for offline play is advantageous. You can look over previous rounds easily to assess your faults and download videos to check out the competition. 

But Twitch is still where most people stream gaming videos, and we’ll just have to wait and see how this might affect gamers and the future for live-streaming.

If you have an iOS device and are considering signing up for this service, make sure you don't sign up via iTunes/App Store, because Apple's "taxes" are transferred directly to the consumer so you'd be paying $12.99 per month. Instead, buy the service online and sign in to the YouTube app on your iPhone/iOS device to reap the benefits of YouTube Red.

Is this service worth your money? 

It's complicated. It provides more benefits than other music services, and the addition of videos makes it a pretty attractive offer. But are the YouTube videos worth the extra couple of dollars per month? That's up to your video-watching habits and the value of the content that you watch on YouTube.

But YouTube has shown that it is changing now — that it can offer more to consumers than a hub of shared video content. The service seems slightly overpriced, its target consumer base is undefined and it has a long way to go, but other companies had the same problems. At the very least, it's opening up a crowded market, and giving us more choices, which is good for consumers like us.

Siddhesh Dabholkar

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