YouTube Makes ‘Cobra Kai’ Free to Watch as It Doubles Down on Ad-Supported Content

Video giant shifts strategy to offer its original shows as ad-supported freebies for a limited time

Last Updated: August 29, 2019 @ 9:08 AM

YouTube, after failing to gain much traction with its subscription business, is shifting its release strategy by making “Cobra Kai” and other original shows free to watch starting on Thursday.

The first season of the series based on the “Karate Kid” films will be available to stream immediately, and the second season, after debuting earlier this year, will be available for ad-supported viewing on Sept. 11. The show’s third season is set to hit the service next year.

All YouTube originals will now be free to watch, with ads, for a select amount of time.

Previously, YouTube had made only the first few episodes of the show and its other originals free to view, while the rest were put behind its paywall on YouTube Premium, which costs $12 a month. YouTube said the first episode of the series has pulled in 55 million views since its 2018 launch.

Still, the video giant isn’t completely abandoning its subscription business. YouTube originals will only be free for a designated amount of time moving forward, whereas Premium customers will be able to watch the shows whenever they want, along with other bonus content. But YouTube’s decision to pull its originals out from behind the paywall shows its leaning into its ad-supported roots at the same time other new services from Apple and Disney are looking to grab subscription dollars.

The Google-owned company has been notoriously tight-lipped about how much it makes off advertisements, but analysts estimate it’s brought in $15 billion in the last year, according to Financial Times. YouTube has likely calculated it can drive more revenue by offering its originals for free, with ads, for a limited time. This wouldn’t be unprecedented; a person familiar with Hulu’s business told TheWrap earlier this summer it makes more off its ad-supported business than its $12 per month ad-free customers since advertisers are increasingly desperate to attract streaming eyeballs.

YouTube on Thursday announced several more originals coming to its service, including a handful of European shows. The company also renewed two originals, “Liza on Demand” and “Impulse,” with both shows returning this fall, and grabbed the rights to a Johnny Cash documentary that’ll hit the service in October.