|Founded||November 2014 (as Music Key)|
October 31, 2015 (as YouTube Red)
901 Cherry Avenue, San Bruno, California, U.S.
YouTube Premium (formerly YouTube Red) is a paid streaming subscription service that provides advertising-free streaming of all videos hosted by YouTube, exclusive original content produced in collaboration with the site's creators, access to audio-only versions of videos on the YouTube Music app, as well as offline playback and background playback of videos on mobile devices.
The service was originally launched in November 2014 as Music Key, offering only advertisement-free streaming of music videos from participating labels on YouTube and Google Play Music. The service was then revised and relaunched as YouTube Red on October 31, 2015, expanding its scope to offer advertisement-free access to all YouTube videos, as opposed to just music.
YouTube announced the rebranding of the service as YouTube Premium on May 17, 2018, alongside the return of a separate, YouTube Music subscription service. Later in the year, it was reported that YouTube was planning to make some of the original content associated with the service available on an ad-supported basis.
The service was first unveiled in November 2014 as Music Key, serving as a collaboration between YouTube and Google Play Music, and meant to succeed the former's own subscription service. Music Key offered ad-free playback of music videos from participating labels hosted on YouTube, as well as background and offline playback of music videos on mobile devices from within the YouTube app. The service also included access to Google Play Music All Access, which provides ad-free audio streaming of a library of music. Alongside Music Key, Google also introduced tighter integration between Play Music and YouTube's apps, including the sharing of music recommendations, and access to YouTube's music videos from within the Play Music app. Music Key was not YouTube's first foray into premium content, having launched film rentals in 2010, and premium, subscription-based channels in 2013.
During its invite-only beta, Music Key faced mixed reception due to the limited scope of the offering; YouTube's chief business officer Robert Kyncl explained that his daughter was confused over why videos of songs from Frozen were not "music" in the scope of the service, and thus not advertisement-free. These concerns and others led to a revamping of the Music Key concept to create YouTube Red; unlike Music Key, YouTube Red was designed to provide ad-free streaming to all videos, rather than just music content. This shift required YouTube to seek permission from its content creators and rights holders to allow their content to be part of the ad-free service; under the new contract terms, partners would receive a share of the total revenue from YouTube Red subscriptions, as determined by how much their content is viewed by subscribers.
YouTube also sought to compete against sites such as Netflix, Prime Video and Hulu by offering original content (YouTube Originals) as part of the subscription service, leveraging prominent YouTube personalities in combination with professional producers. Robert Kyncl acknowledged that while many of YouTube's prominent personalities had built their followings and created content while operating on a "shoestring budget", he admitted that "in order to scale up, it takes a different kind of enterprise, a different kind of skill set" such as story-telling and "showrunning". Prominent YouTube personality PewDiePie, who was involved in one of the planned originals for the service, explained that the service was meant to mitigate profits lost due to the use of ad blocking.
YouTube Red was officially unveiled on October 21, 2015. On May 18, 2016, YouTube Red and YouTube Music launched in Australia and New Zealand, the first countries to gain access to the service outside the United States.
On May 17, 2018, YouTube announced the upcoming rebranding of the service as YouTube Premium, which officially took effect on June 18. The rebranding came alongside the re-launch of YouTube Music, with a separate subscription service focused solely on music (that, as before, is bundled with the larger YouTube Premium service, and also offered to Google Play Music subscribers). YouTube also announced that the price of the service would increase from US$9.99 to US$11.99 per-month for new subscribers; the existing pricing, as well as bundling of YouTube Premium benefits with Google Play Music subscriptions, is grandfathered for those who subscribed prior to the rebranding. Alongside the rebranding, the services also expanded into Canada, and 11 European countries (Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom), with more expansion to come in the future. By July 2019, the services were available in at least 60 countries and territories.
Since the re-launch, the YouTube apps and website have displayed an increasing number of nag screens that advertise the service to non-subscribers.
A YouTube Premium subscription allows users to watch videos on YouTube without advertisements across the website and its mobile apps, including the dedicated YouTube Music, YouTube Gaming, and YouTube Kids apps. Through the apps, users can also save videos to their device for offline viewing, play their audio in the background, and in picture-in-picture mode on Android Oreo and newer. YouTube Premium also offers original content that is exclusive to subscribers, which is created and published by YouTube's largest creators. The service also offers ad-free music streaming through the YouTube Music Premium and Google Play Music services.
YouTube Premium offers original films and series produced in collaboration with professional studios and YouTube personalities, under the banner YouTube Originals. For multi-episode series, the first episode of a YouTube Originals series is available free. In selected countries where the service is not yet available, individual episodes can also be purchased through YouTube or Google Play Movies & TV. Access to YouTube Originals is also included in YouTube's separate streaming television service YouTube TV, but a YouTube Premium subscription is still required for the service's other benefits.
In November 2018, it was reported that YouTube was planning to offer some of its premium shows available for free on an ad-supported basis by 2020. The Premium subscription would still cover ad-free access, timed exclusivity windows for original content, and content that is not made freely-available.
In May 2014, prior to the official unveiling of the Music Key service, the independent music trade organization Worldwide Independent Network alleged that YouTube was using non-negotiable contracts with independent labels that were "undervalued" in comparison to other streaming services, and stated that YouTube threatened to block a label's videos from public access if they did not agree to the new terms. In a statement to the Financial Times in June 2014, Robert Kyncl confirmed that these measures were "to ensure that all content on the platform is governed by its new contractual terms". Stating that 90% of labels had reached deals, he went on to say that "while we wish that we had [a] 100% success rate, we understand that is not likely an achievable goal and therefore it is our responsibility to our users and the industry to launch the enhanced music experience". The Financial Times later reported that YouTube had reached an aggregate deal with Merlin Network--a trade group representing over 20,000 independent labels, for their inclusion in the service. However, YouTube itself has not confirmed the deal.
Following the unveiling of YouTube Red, it was stated that these same contractual requirements would now apply to all YouTube Partner Program members; partners who do not accept the new terms and revenue sharing agreements related to the YouTube Red service will have their videos blocked entirely in regions where YouTube Red is available. The YouTube channels of ESPN were a notable party affected by the change; a representative of ESPN's parent, The Walt Disney Company, stated that conflicts with third-party rightsholders in regards to sports footage contained in ESPN's YouTube videos prevented them from being offered under the new terms. A limited number of older videos remain on ESPN's main channel.
Similarly, a large amount of content licensed by Japanese record labels became unavailable in regions where YouTube Red is available. It was believed that the ability to download videos for offline viewing in YouTube Red was a subject of hesitation for Japanese media companies due to the need to monitor when, where, and how content is being used in accordance with Japanese copyright laws, hence their content was blocked under the new requirements.