It looks like Google is planning to put YouTube 4K videos behind the paywall. When trying to access the Ultra HD video version, Google tells some users that they need to purchase a YouTube Premium subscription.
In a possible step backwards for the free availability of 4K video, Google may be hanging out these extra pixels as a carrot for the ad-free Premium tier.
The 2160p option, when available, was free for all users to watch, provided they had a compatible screen and a strong internet connection.
However, over the weekend, users on social media (via TechCrunch) started seeing the Premium-only option. Those who access the site without paying can only watch these videos at 1440p. For now, it appears to be a test, not a full launch, so it’s possible that Google will measure the feedback before rolling it out to all users.
While it’s not the biggest deal on a mobile device or laptop, people watching on a big 4K TV at home will definitely notice the difference when watching a video that they’ve had ads to get access to.
Earlier this month, it was found that Google is getting ahead in this regard, with some users exposed to 11 non-skippable ads before they could watch the video. This was also seen as a way to take advantage of YouTube Premium, which costs $11.99/£11.99 a month.
In addition to accessing YouTube without ads, it also enables users to access YouTube Music without ads, offline and in the background as you do other things on your mobile device. Getting rid of ads is a big bonus if you watch a lot of YouTube, but let’s face it, most savvy users know an easy way to download a YouTube video if they really want to store a copy of it locally on their device.
Perhaps ramping up ads on the free version and restricting 4K to premium subscribers might convince more people to embrace the paywall. The company says it has more than 50 million subscribers across YouTube Music and YouTube Premium. YouTube TV subscribers actually pay $20 a month for the limited 4K content available through the service, so it’s unheard of.