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YouTube's commissioning strategy increasingly shifts to unscripted


YouTube is increasing its focus on unscripted content as it prepares to make all of its new original content available for free. While previous Premium titles like martial arts drama Cobra Kai will remain subscriber-only, all new content will be available to everyone in an ad-supported format. Premium subscribers will benefit from perks like ad-free streaming, exclusive extra content and bingeable all-at-once releases rather than weekly installments. Among its original output, YouTube has increased the proportion of unscripted content from 10% in the second half of 2017 to 40% in the second half of 2018. Unscripted content is also far more likely to progress beyond development or pilot. While only 61% of scripted content in development or produced as a pilot for YouTube in 2018 has made it to a series order, 92% of unscripted shows made it to the same mark. The shift in content strategy began before YouTube revealed the strategic shift for its Premium services in November 2018.

Among the FAANGs, YouTube is now second only to Facebook in terms of its unscripted focus. For the full year 2018, 42% of YouTube’s announced original shows were unscripted, compared to 4% for Apple, 18% for Amazon and 29% for Netflix. Facebook Watch still has far more unscripted content with 81% of its original output unscripted during 2018.

There has also been a corresponding change in terms of genre of YouTube originals, with more commissions for genres like reality, entertainment, documentary and particularly comedy, while expensive scripted genres like sci-fi & fantasy, action and adventure and romance either remaining steady or dropping off entirely. Bucking this trend is the crime & thriller genre, which has increased steadily over 2018. 

While the move of original content from an exclusive subscription model back to the group's established ad-supported business may signal the beginning of the end for YouTube’s Premium service, original content is unlikely to suffer: the company has significantly ramped up the number of titles announced during 2018 as it looks to keep pace with its FAANG peers.