How YouTube Premium Highlights the Regular Version’s Flaws

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Key Takeaways

  • YouTube’s $12 a month Premium service offers an ad-free upgrade.
  • Other upgrades include the ability to play videos in the background, downloadable content, and access to a huge library of music and video content.
  • There’s a ton of original content included with Premium.
A smartphone displaying YouTube with the subscribe option.
 Anatoliy Sizov  / Getty Images

Giving YouTube’s Premium service a try made me realize what a mess the regular version is. Ads block the videos you actually want to see and seemingly stop and start at random. All this nonsense instantly disappears if you sign up for Premium, formerly called YouTube Red. Finally, YouTube acts like a normal streaming service.

For $12 a month, YouTube Premium goes ad-free and also offers a host of upgrades including the ability to play videos in the background, downloadable content, and access to a huge library of music and video content. I found it to be a great deal if overwhelming at times and a bit redundant if you already belong to other streaming services.

Background Play, Finally

One feature which comes with Premium that seems like a minor upgrade but actually isn’t is the ability to play videos in the background. Many times I’ll be watching a video and want to switch to email or word processing and the video… just stops. This isn’t acceptable in 2020 and it’s all fixed with Premium. 

Closeup of someone using a smartphone with a video play screen overlayed.
 B4LLS / Getty Images

But do upgrades like this justify Premium’s $12 per month price tag? It seems a small enough price to pay, less than the cost of a single movie ticket back in the days when those were a thing. But as the coronavirus pandemic winds on, my credit card bill is mounting with streaming charges. HBO, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix: The list grows with every alarming headline I need to escape. Streaming subscriptions are like mice munching on cheese. Each bite appears small but you wake up one morning and the whole cheese is gone. 

Exclusive Content

One big advantage of YouTube Premium is the amount of original content included with the price. For hardcore YouTube fans that means access to exclusive material by YouTubers like Lilly Singh and Rooster Teeth

For those more into traditional cinema, there are some intriguing exclusives like The Platform is Born, a documentary about British Black music, and the interesting Defying Gravity, a six-part documentary series that explores the story of women's gymnastics. There are quite a few cinema releases as well, ranging from The Terminator to The Secret of Roan Inish. The interface to browse movies is slick but a bit harder to navigate than similar services like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. 

The YouTube icon on a smartphone with Netflix, Prime Videos, and Apple TV.
 egadolfo / Getty Images

There’s also a music app included with the subscription. YouTube promises “millions” of songs all of which are available to listen to without ads. While it was wonderful to be able to have access to all these tunes, I’m already a subscriber to Apple Music ($9.99 a month) and Amazon Music Unlimited ($7.99 monthly for Prime members and $9.99 for non-members). How much choice is too much? Of course, as a sheer value proposition, one could argue that YouTube Premium is a better option as it offers both videos and music. 

YouTube’s music service is being integrated with Google Play Music which is going away “soon,” the company says. But YouTube premium subscribers will have full access to the Google Play Music library. Google recently added podcasts and there are plenty to choose from. 

Download Stuff for Later

For Premium subscribers, YouTube also throws in a bunch of extras that bring it up to parity with other services. For example, you get the ability to download movies for later playback just like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.

This used to be great when people needed to travel on planes (flying objects with wings for those who have forgotten) and didn’t have access to Wi-Fi. Now that the pandemic has us all mostly at home, it’s slightly less useful but may still come in handy if civilization collapses, and the only thing left to do is watch your saved sitcom episodes on a tablet powered by a solar charger. 

I found YouTube Premium to be a refreshing change of pace after years of wading through the ad-strewn debris of its regular service. Would I pay $12 a month for the privilege? Maybe, as there’s a ton of content on there and I’m not going anywhere except my couch for the rest of 2020, at least.