If you’re a fan of firing up 4K YouTube videos on your iPhone or big 4K TV screen, you may need to start dipping into your piggy-bank. A new feature-testing phase is locking the ability to stream 4K videos behind a subscription paywall.
Numerous viewers are reporting that the ability to choose the higher-quality 2160p / 4K streaming options for video content supporting the ultra-HD resolution is being prevented by a prompt to “Tap to upgrade” to YouTube’s premium offering.
Following confusion and complaints, YouTube has responded on Twitter, confirming that the restrictions are part of a test to explore the feature preferences of its potential Premium subscriber base. Viewers were urged to leave feedback on the test (opens in new tab).
So, after testing up to 12 ads on YouTube for non-Premium users, now some users reported that they also have to get a Premium account just to watch videos in 4K. pic.twitter.com/jJodoAxeDpOctober 1, 2022
Premium vs free YouTube
By far the most popular video platform in the western world, YouTube has 2.1 billion active monthly users as of August 2022 — but only an estimated 50 million of those pay for the Premium and Music subscription options, which currently offers ad-free viewing, in-app content downloads, and background music play when the app is not active. In the US, YouTube Premium subscriptions cost $11.99 a month.
But despite the vast numbers — and an overt advertising push that has seen as many as ten unskippable ads play before videos (opens in new tab) during some testing phases — parent company Google’s profits are feeling the pinch of the current economic climate as much as everyone else.
Whether or not a 4K paywall will prove itself a permanent change in YouTube’s viewing behavior remains to be seen. Will content creators, for instance, bother to work in the higher resolution format, knowing that only a fraction of potential users will see it, or prefer to work in the lower resolution realms with wider viewership and faster processing times? It’ll be a tough sell for YouTube either way — give something to someone consistently for free, and it’s much more difficult to get them to pay later.