YouTube chief hints at sitewide paid subscription model

HALF MOON BAY, Calif.--YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said the online video giant could introduce a subscription-based service sometime soon, but said the Google (NASDAQ: GOOG)-owned site is interested in giving users choices over how they view video content.

Susan Wojcicki at Re/code

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki speaks to Re/code Code/Mobile attendees. (Photo by Phil Goldstein)

Wojcicki said paid, ad-free subscription version of YouTube could be coming, but did not say when. "It's near term," she said, adding that the ad-supported model has worked well so far. "There are going to be cases where people say, 'I don't want to see the ads,' or 'I want to have a different experience.'"

Wojcicki, a Google veteran who had been an executive in the search giant's advertising business before taking over YouTube this year, said there are many applications where users either pay for it via watching advertising or pay to skip ads.  "I think that's a really interesting model," she said, speaking here at Re/code's Code/Mobile conference Monday night. "I think we're thinking about who to give users options. And so the conversation will continue." In 2013, YouTube let individual content owners sell subscriptions to their channels, but Wojcicki was discussing a site-wide development.

The YouTube chief noted that HBO and CBS' recent announcements of a la carte streaming offers for their content are the wave of the future. "I think long-term, all of the content will be available over the top and we'll have the ability to access it in whatever way makes sense to monetize it, whether it be via subscription or ads," she said.

Speaking of subscriptions, Wojcicki, declined to say whether the company will launch a music subscription service by the end of 2014, as has been widely rumored. She said YouTube is "working on it" and it should arrive "soon."

"I think there's a lot of opportunity," she said. "It's amazing how much music we have. ... I remain optimistic about you getting to see it soon.."

Currently, Wojcicki said, around half of YouTube's traffic is coming from mobile devices, which likely will inch up over time. She said that is forcing YouTube to improve how it suggests videos and how it designs its user interface. Overall, she said total watch time is up 50 percent year-over-year.

In September, YouTube announced a multimillion-dollar initiative aimed at holding on to some of its biggest individual stars. Wojcicki noted that YouTube user PewDiePie has more than 31 million subscribers, and is widely known for his videos showing video game play, which is an area Wojcicki said YouTube will continue to invest in.

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) paid $970 million in August to acquire a streaming platform, Twitch, which specializes in streaming video game play. Speaking generally, Wojcicki said "acquisitions are a lot of work" especially on integrating technologies. "It makes sense to acquire if you know it's something you can't build," she said.

For more:
- see this Re/code article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this CNET article
- see this The Verge article

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