YouTube putting 4K behind a paywall would be the wrong move

NOTICE: Google has officially unveiled its latest slew of Pixel products with the Pixel 7 Pro and the Pixel tablet, but news released earlier in the week about YouTube is more interesting for this column.

Google ran a test over the past few weeks in which 4K content is locked behind a YouTube Premium subscription. Google confirmed this on Twitter (a tweet that has since been deleted) as part of an experiment to understand feature preferences between Premium and non-Premium viewers.

It’s just the beginning and it’s not a done deal that 4K streaming would be locked behind a paywall, but for me putting 4K viewing behind a subscription would be a bad move.

From Google’s point of view, it’s lose money on its streaming service (that’s a whole other discussion for another column) and has to make money somehow, but I don’t think 4K content makes sense.

4K Ultra HD is, or at least should be, the resolution we should all be watching in, but it isn’t. 4K has been around for at least a decade and it’s still not as widespread as it should be. If it weren’t for OTT services there wouldn’t be much 4K content to sample with Sky and BT Sport the only true broadcasters in the UK to commit to having 4K broadcast channels. The likes of ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and even the BBC (although iPlayer is increasing its quota) are lagging behind. We’re still used to watching HD, even though we buy TVs capable of much better.

BT Sports merges with Eurosport

Examples like Disney+, iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, and Apple TV+ are the ones that are paving the way for 4K content to be available in a single subscription. While Netflix’s tiered approach to resolutions makes some sense in giving the consumer choice, it doesn’t help the proliferation of 4K because viewers will almost always choose the cheaper option if they think it is not necessary to opt for the higher level.

It’s a similar dilemma affecting the rollout of 8K, where it suffers from a shortage of content as well as a lack of access. Aside from a few experiments from BT Sport, few broadcasters outside of Japan’s NHK emphasize 8K viewing; Televisions are still too expensive and there is hardly any content to display in the format.

The same could happen to 4K, except there’s a lot of content in the ecosystem to see, so locking it behind a paid subscription would be a personal goal. Internet speeds are improving, 4K is here but what is needed is a bigger push.

If YouTube commits to its current line of thinking, it will simply cling to what it has rather than open doors. As soon as 4K becomes the norm, the better, because we’ll leave behind the lackluster lower resolution of HD and SD. Access to 4K gives people a reason to upgrade to 4K displays and buy more 4K content. Denying that access only slows the adoption of 4K as the standard.

About Ethel Nester

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