Technology review: YouTube's subscriber service Red

by Peter Griffin / 12 July, 2016
YouTube’s subscriber service, Red, might give established players a run for their money.
Online star PewDiePie. Photo/Getty Images
Online star PewDiePie. Photo/Getty Images


"Why would anyone pay for YouTube?” That’s the question I usually get when I tell people about YouTube Red, the $12.99 a month version of the world’s largest video streaming website that launched here in May.

It turns out that there are a number of good reasons. Red is advertising-free: there are no ads before videos, no banner ads, no ads whatsoever. It lets you download videos so you can watch them offline later on your phone. Red allows background play, so you can have a YouTube video going while you are using other apps on your phone – great if you want to listen to something in the background while you work. It works on smart TVs too.

But the clincher is that YouTube Red comes with YouTube Music, a companion app featuring a library to rival Spotify and Apple Music. Google Music Play, the company’s years-old premium music service, hasn’t gained much traction in the face of Spotify, Apple and Pandora. They now have reason to worry.

YouTube was always favoured as the free option for streaming music videos because there’s so much choice, including bootleg recordings that YouTube users have uploaded. I’ve been to many parties where the music has come courtesy of a YouTube playlist. The only annoyance is the ads that pop up between songs.

But not with Red, which has the most extensive collection of videos and music in a single subscription. It doesn’t have the array of playlists submitted by Spotify’s massive pool of users or the live 24-hour radio station of Apple Music, featuring, among others, expat Kiwi deejay Zane Lowe.

But it does have YouTube’s uncannily accurate software for predicting the types of things you want to watch and listen to.

This may be the first time many Google users consider paying the internet giant. Most of its services, such as Gmail, Google Photo, Maps and Search, are free. Google makes its billions by subjecting us to ads with many of those services and finding out exactly what makes us tick in the process.

Some will rightly point out that YouTube doesn’t own content, so it shouldn’t charge a fee to access it. But YouTube Red could be good for the creative sector. The company says the majority of the subscription fee will go to content creators.

Red includes a series of “Originals”, short videos exclusive to subscribers. So far, they mainly feature YouTube millennial stars such as PewDiePie and Lilly Singh. But how long before YouTube debuts its own dramas and documentaries? Then there’ll be another player that should be worried – Netflix.

Price: $12.99 a month (free one-month trial).

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A case of bass


Who’s actually in the market for a stereo these days? I listen to music on my TV’s sound bar, to which I connect my phone wirelessly via Bluetooth. For everyone but audiophiles, the chunky speakers that come with a stereo system are an endangered species, considering how good miniature wireless speakers are.

Take, for instance, Sony’s SRS-XB3 speaker. It does almost as good a job as the sound bar for TV and music listening in my small apartment. It has a rubberised, water-resistant case and metal grille on the front and sits either horizontally or vertically.

Buttons on top control Bluetooth syncing and volume and let you answer a phone call if you are streaming music from your smartphone. There’s also an irresistible “extra bass” button. That’s what this speaker is all about – rich, deep bass, which makes it perfect for certain genres of music you won’t typically find on my playlist.

The SRS-XB3 is ideal for outdoor use. Sony claims the speaker will play for 24 hours between battery charges. The device compares well with the long-reigning champion in this space, the Bose SoundLink Mini ($359).

Price: $300

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