YouTube is building a system that allows users to subscribe to streaming services through the YouTube app, The Wall Street Journal reported, and could launch the so-called “channel store” as early as this fall. The logThe report didn’t mention what services might be part of the store, just that YouTube is in talks with several entertainment companies.
A channel store makes perfect sense for YouTube, and it’s been a long time in the making: The information reported on a similar plan as early as early 2020. More recently, the company has indicated that it’s coming: “I think whether content is distributed in a bundle now, or we’re exploring other ways to distribute it over time, I think YouTube can be a great partner there,” YouTube VP of product management Christian Oestlien recently told The edge. “We’ve never looked at the world as these binary choices between us and partner services… we think we can all coexist in a very healthy way.”
This is arguably the most popular idea in the streaming business right now. Tech companies, especially those that have tried to create their own original content and seen how difficult (and expensive!) it is to do so, decide they are better off with everything but the shows and movies. For example, you already have an account with Verizon or AT&T and a bill that you pay each month, so your carrier can position itself as a valuable marketing partner and subscription infrastructure provider. It’s a lot like the old cable bundle, just… internet. And the benefit is the same for app store providers and game stores: a small portion of everything you buy.
Apple, Amazon and a number of others are all advocating for this cause, and often to great effect. HBO Max gained 4.5 million subscribers through Amazon Channels, the log reported, and briefly pledged that partnership, but now reportedly plans to come back. Even Walmart is reportedly thinking of getting into the game.
YouTube may have the strongest point of any channel store partner. It has a huge audience, more than two billion people a month, many of whom already have an account and credit card stored on YouTube. They’ve already downloaded the app, maybe they’re already watching Peacock or HBO shows one clip at a time — it’s an easy upsell to subscribe to the service. (YouTube also has the best video player and app on the market, which doesn’t hurt users.)
YouTube has even built part of this platform already. YouTube TV is already a channel store to some extent; you can subscribe to HBO Max, Starz, Showtime and other channels and services directly from the YouTube TV interface. You can also buy and rent movies directly on YouTube and watch some things for free. More recently, code in the Google TV app suggests that 50 free TV channels are coming to the platform.
To some extent, this also feels like a final admission that YouTube can’t compete directly with the Netflixs and HBOs of the world. The company has long looked for ways to create and offer more premium content, including a handful of ill-fated attempts to create original TV-style content. (RIP, YouTube Originals.) YouTube is already the go-to place for clips and highlights from TV shows and movies, but it hasn’t yet found great ways to integrate premium Hollywood content into the platform.
For this to work, YouTube will have to convince streaming services that it’s not a long-term threat to their business; YouTube’s relationship with Hollywood has improved over the years, but many entertainment companies still see it as both a partner and a necessary evil. While Apple and Amazon have competing services, they don’t represent the existential, paradigm-shifting threat to the TV and movie industry that YouTube does. How the Peacocks and Paramount Pluses of the world will weigh the value of YouTube’s massive audience against the content’s competitive appeal will go a long way in deciding whether YouTube can be the channel store it hopes to be.
Everyone will want to be the channel store in the future – it’s the app store model again and a lot of money is at stake. But if YouTube can do it, it might be even more than that. A YouTube app with all your streaming shows and movies, everything to buy and rent, plus all the creators you love and the search engine that supports it all? That would be the most powerful app in entertainment, and it wouldn’t even come close.