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YouTube to Video Makers: Join Our Subscription Service or Go Somewhere Else

The world's biggest video site flexes some muscle.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

YouTube is getting ready to launch an ad-free subscription service. And the world’s largest video site is flexing some muscle to make sure its new product is as big as possible.

YouTube is doing that with new rules that will make it difficult for video makers to keep their clips out of the new service, which should come out in the second half of this year.

The key change: YouTube “partners” — video owners who make money from ads on their YouTube clips — will need to let YouTube put their clips in the ad-free service, too.

If they don’t, YouTube will make it nearly impossible for a casual visitor to find the videos. It will classify the clips as “private,” which means the only people who can see them will be those preselected by the video owner.

YouTube says it will share subscription revenue with video owners whose stuff gets viewed, and it isn’t requiring video owners to keep their stuff on the site exclusively. So the new rules likely won’t pose a problem for the majority of video makers.

But I’ve already heard rumblings from some big video distributors, who say they resent having to put their stuff behind YouTube’s paywall whether they like it or not. One possible complication for some of them: It means they can’t put ad-free videos on other services that want exclusive access to those clips.

YouTube reps wouldn’t comment beyond a boilerplate quote. But the company does address the issue, first noted in a report from The Verge, in a new “Frequently Asked Questions” page for YouTube partners.

Here’s the question and answer:

What happens if I do not want to participate in new paid offerings?

If you choose not to participate in our new paid offerings, you can change your video settings to private to keep videos hosted on YouTube. Though you can always choose whether to host any or all of your videos on YouTube, we strongly believe that any fan who’s willing to pay for a feature like an ads-free experience on YouTube deserves to access the exact same content that exists on the ad-supported site. A paid YouTube offering will give fans a compelling new way to enjoy their favorite content uninterrupted while offering partners a new way to earn revenue from their videos, benefits we feel are overwhelmingly positive for everyone.”

YouTube has had some practice at making this argument. Last year, as it got ready to launch a music subscription service, it made a similar demand for music owners, requiring them to put their videos behind the subscription paywall or leave the site.

In this case, YouTube has extra rhetorical ammunition on its side, since one of the chief complaints from video makers is that YouTube doesn’t generate enough money for their clips.

Now it can argue that it is giving them an extra revenue source: YouTube says it will give video owners 55 percent of the subscription revenue associated with their clips. That’s the same split it gives them for any ad revenue their videos generate.

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