As YouTube continues to shift away from scripted YouTube Originals and focus on unscripted content — including musical content and a renewed focus on learning and personality-driven content — YouTube has confirmed that it will be allowing non-Premium users to watch YouTube Originals like Cobra Kai for free with ads in the future.
The original content market is getting increasingly crowded, expensive, and downright cutthroat these days — especially as services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime prepare for Disney+'s launch this November — and YouTube has had enough problems managing user-uploaded content, purchased content, and trying to get YouTube Music into shape of late.
This news is not surprising in the wake of YouTube canceling much of its original content back in March, when Bloomberg hinted at Originals going free with ads. YouTube confirmed at its annual Brandcast event that Originals content will become available for free users with ads, though an exact timeline was not given.
Don't take this to mean that YouTube Originals are completely dead. YouTube also announced the renewal of Cobra Kai for a third season at Brandcast, as well as the focus shift mentioned at the top of the article into personality-driven and topic-driven unscripted content for things like cooking, science, art, beauty, and music, the latter of which will likely tie into YouTube's continued focus on building YouTube Music into a bona fide Spotify competitor rather than a YouTube Premium add-on.
The move to free-with-ads for YouTube Original also makes sense considering that YouTube now reaches more 18 to 49 year-olds in an average week than all cable TV networks combined — no doubt in part because YouTube remains free while so many services move towards subscriptions and paywalls — making them a very lucrative buy for advertisers. Offering advertisers YouTube Originals both expands the visibility of YouTube's original content and diversifies the revenue stream for those shows.
This shouldn't harm YouTube Premium's model in much of any way; Originals were seen as icing on top of the Premium cake of ad-free and offline content, and as users continue to increase the time they spend watching YouTube on Smart TVs and living room consoles, those features should be more than enough of a draw to keep Premium subscriptions coming.