YouTube puts original series in front of paywall as streaming competition heats up

TORONTO — YouTube is introducing a new option to watch full seasons of its original TV shows for free, as long as viewers are willing to sit through a few commercial breaks.

The Google-owned company says it’s lifting the paywall on upcoming seasons of marquee programs after they were previously only available through its ad-free subscription service called YouTube Premium.

The ad-supported alternative will expose the programs to a wider audience, but it also comes as competition intensifies between streaming video platforms.

YouTube says the first project unshackled from the paywall is “Cobra Kai,” the spinoff series based on “The Karate Kid.” Already Season 1 of the series is temporarily available to watch with commercials, until Sept. 11 when the second season becomes available under the same model.

The company says future seasons of existing shows, including Ontario-filmed series “Impulse,” and new TV programs still in development, will be negotiated with licences that let YouTube make them available with commercials.

Subscribers to YouTube Premium will still be able to watch all of the programs without advertisements.

YouTube’s announcement comes as more companies launch streaming video platforms in hopes of attracting viewers with original programming.

Later this year, Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus will launch their own subscription services stocked with exclusive film and TV shows, adding to a market that’s currently dominated in Canada by Netflix, Crave and Amazon Prime Video.

But the growing number of subscription services has created an alternative market for viewers who don’t mind sitting through commercials in exchange for free entertainment.

Several video steaming companies have already waded into the ad-supported programming market, including Tubi, Popcornflix and CTV’s Throwback, which offer a selection of older films and TV series with occasional ad breaks.

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David Friend, The Canadian Press

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