Google this morning announced that it is making full seasons of ad-supported TV shows available for free on YouTube for the first time, as the company takes another significant step into TV territory.
YouTube says US users will now have access to nearly 4,000 episodes of popular TV shows including Hell’s Kitchen, Andromeda, and Heartland. By the looks of it, these are generally archive shows, or older seasons of current shows, rather than new releases. For Hell’s Kitchen for example, only the first four seasons, which aired between 2005-2008, will be available.
Nonetheless the move represents a major expansion of YouTube’s ad-supported premium content offering. The platform began offering a selection of films available for free with ads in 2018, and has grown its catalogue of free movies to over 1,500.
And YouTube says it will continue feeding new ad-supported content into its ‘Movies and Shows’ tab, promising up to 100 new titles each week.
A change in strategy?
While these shows and films will be available across YouTube’s web domain, mobile app, and CTV mobile app, the movie is clearly designed with the latter in mind. YouTube’s CTV app is already the most popular ad-supported streaming app in the US, measured by minutes spent viewing content, and this influx of TV shows will provide a significant boost to YouTube stock of CTV ad inventory.
But the announcement also potentially marks a subtle change in approach for YouTube’s TV ambitions, or at least a change in focus in terms of content.
Initially, YouTube looked like it was gearing up to compete with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, commissioning high quality original series like Cobra Kai.
But YouTube’s Originals division never really found its feet, and YouTube announced earlier this year that it’s killing off the majority of its original content.
Now, with this investment in popular archive content, YouTube seems to be looking to compete more directly with the likes of Pluto TV, Tubi, and Xumo.
That could be a worrying prospect for those service. As mentioned, YouTube is already the most popular ad-supported CTV app in the US. By offering the same sort of content as these services, YouTube could focus even more CTV viewing time within its own platform.
For the moment, YouTube isn’t offering exactly the same kind of service as these free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) services. Specifically, YouTube isn’t yet running linear channels for this ad-supported content, a key part of the FAST services’ value proposition.
These services are also each owned by a major content owner (Paramount for Pluto TV, Fox for Tubi, and Comcast for Xumo), meaning they each have pipelines of content unavailable to YouTube.
Regardless, today announcement shows that YouTube sees an opportunity to position itself as the home of all ad-supported content on CTV. And YouTube has plenty of other factors in its favour, including Google’s ownership of a CTV operating system and extensive hand in CTV ad monetisation, the FAST services have their work cut out for them.