YouTube Drops Paywall With ‘Cobra Kai’ Release, Sets ‘Impulse’ & ‘Liza on Demand’ Returns, Johnny Cash Docu

Cobra Kai

YouTube is officially kicking off its shift to AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) today by dropping the first season of its most popular original scripted series Cobra Kai, starring Ralph Macchio and William Zabka, in front of the paywall for a limited time.

The streamer also has set Season 2 premiere dates for comedy series Liza on Demand, headlined by YouTube star Liza Koshy., on September 25 and drama Impulse on October 16, along with free windows to catch up with each series’ first season.

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As part of the kickoff, YouTube today also announced a pickup and October 8 premiere date for the Johnny Cash documentary film The Gift, which had premiered at SXSW, as well as premiere dates for a slate of three original European non-scripted programs announced at Edinburgh last week, including Virtually History, a special commemorating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the coming months, YouTube will roll out a new Latin America-focused slate at Brandcast Brazil and Mexico.

Before today, only the first two episodes of season 1 and the first episode of season 2 of Cobra Kai were available to sample in front of the paywall. As part of the AVOD strategy, new YouTube original series and specials released after September 24 will be available for free with ads.  YouTube’s subscription service, YouTube Premium, will continue to offer ad-free access to all YouTube Originals with all episodes available at once to binge.

For instance, Premium members will continue to be able to binge the full new seasons of Impulse and Liza on Demand, while one new episode will be rolled out weekly for AVOD viewers. Additionally, YouTube Premium subscribers will have exclusive access to director’s cuts and bonus content of YouTube Originals when available.

“Today, we are welcoming a global audience to enjoy our award-winning series and specials,” said Robert Kyncl, Chief Business Officer for YouTube. “We see a tremendous opportunity to develop more region-specific content, particularly in Europe, Asia and Latin America, and will continue to partner with the biggest stars and creators in the world to share their stories and voices.”

For the Google-owned streaming service, moving the focus from SVOD to AVOD came with a change in the original programming strategy away from scripted.

As Deadline reported last November YouTube started recalibrating its programming strategy last fall in preparation of moving all YouTube Originals in front of the paywall to be ad-supported, creating a single Originals slate for both AVOD and SVOD. At that time, YouTube quietly stopped taking new scripted pitches while keeping all existing scripted projects in the pipeline.

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That pipeline is now starting to run dry. Following the string of cancellations, passes and series and pilot releases over the last year — including series Step Up: High Water and Wayne and pilot Dark Cargo, which are looking for new homes — there are only three remaining YouTube Premium scripted series that are now transitioning to AVOD — the hugely popular flagship Cobra Kai, which is headed into its third season and is expected to be a cornerstone of YouTube’s new AVOD platform, as well as Impulse and Liza On Demand.

Given YouTube’s direction away from scripted, the fate of Impulse beyond Season 2 is highly uncertain. The future of Liza On Demand is more promising as Koshy is a signature YouTube talent, and the platform recently ordered two additional episodes for the show’s upcoming second season. YouTube is expected to assess the two series’ AVOD performance before making final renewal decisions.

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Being built around a popular YourTube personally, Liza On Demand falls into one the three development filters the video hub announced at its May NewFront as a way to align its originals closer to what appeals to its broad audience of 2 billion users. They include music, learning and personalities/familiar IP. At the time, YouTube brass maintained that scripted would remain an active component of its development and programming plans, joining unscripted, interactive and live entertainment events.

Last week, Luke Hyams, Head of Originals, YouTube, EMEA, confirmed that the digital platform is not looking for scripted projects.

Today, Susanne Daniels, YouTube’s Global Head of Original Content, touted the company’s new AVOD push and programming direction.

“YouTube propels popular culture and our new slate reflects our unmatched opportunity to celebrate the best and brightest parts of the platform,” she said. “We are now developing new series and specials centered on fan-favorite areas like music, personalities and life-long learning that will entertain and inspire a global audience.”

Written and executive produced by Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, the Sony TV-produced Cobra Kai is an international hit, drawing nearly 55 million views for the first episode of season 1. The first episode of season 2 bested the season 1 premiere by 136%, making it the fastest YouTube Original to hit 20 million views in just six days, according to YouTube. Production on season 3 will begin shortly.

Complete details of new series and special follows below.

The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash

The film, which world premiered at SXSW 2019 and was created with the full cooperation of the Cash estate and rich in recently discovered archival materials, brings Cash the man out from behind the legend. Taking the remarkable Folsom Prison recording as a central motif and featuring interviews with family and celebrated collaborators, the 90-minute documentary explores the artistic victories, the personal tragedies, the struggles with addiction, and the spiritual pursuits that colored Johnny Cash’s life. “The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash” is directed by Thom Zimny and produced by Thom Zimny, Glen Zipper, Sean Stuart and Jillian Apfelbaum. Frank Marshall, Ryan Suffern, Jeff Pollack, John Carter Cash, Josh Matas, Dan Friedkin, Bradley Thomas, Ryan Friedkin and Jasmine Daghighian serve as executive producers. The documentary is an Imperative Entertainment and Kennedy/Marshall production in association with Sutter Road Picture Company and The John R Cash Trust. The original composition for this project was composed and performed by Mike McCready, and the companion soundtrack to the film, The Gift: The Journey Of Johnny Cash (The Original Soundtrack) will be released in the fall of 2019 by Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music Entertainment. “The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash” will screen at the Telluride Film Festival on Friday, August 30 and Saturday, August 31 in Telluride, CO.


The School Of…
(premiering October)

This series sees the hugely successful YouTube philosophy channel The School of Life collaborate with a group of the world’s most interesting and diverse YouTube creators to explore some of the greatest philosophical questions of our age. In a series of stand alone films that includes titles like ‘Should I Marry Someone I Don’t Love?’, ‘Will The Next Picasso Be A Robot?’ and ‘Is Democracy Dangerous?’, the creators tackle the subjects in a relatable and impactful manner, encouraging their audiences to see each topic in a whole new light. Creators featured in season one include The Martinez Twins, Hannah Stocking, Luzu, Lady Leshurr and Adam Saleh.

Virtually History (premiering November 6)

Created in partnership with Remarkable TV (part of EndemolShine UK), this 30 min special is launching on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall brings an immersive new way for history to be brought to life. Three people with a family connection to the Berlin Wall and three YouTubers will be transported back in time through the power of VR, to experience what is was like to live through this unprecedented moment in European history. Three photographs depict a different and important moment in the history of the Berlin Wall will be recreated in stunning VR and offer a very unique and emotional lens on the powerful human stories that lie behind the history of the wall. As our contributors dramatically step into the virtual recreations of their family’s past with our historian host, simultaneously a group of profile YouTube creators will follow their journey, allowing for the past to be experienced first hand, across generations and continents as never before.

The Edge of Science
(premiering December)

Produced by BBC Studios Science Unit, Colin Furze and other passionate YouTube science creators team up with Cambridge University scholar, podcaster and writer Rick Edwards to put the most ‘out there’ ideas in science to the test in an ambitious range of stunts and experiments. Groundbreaking and pioneering, this special will explore the science behind levitation investigating whether science can make the impossible possible. Our intrepid team head off to meet the scientists behind cutting edge research into acoustic and quantum levitation and put their theories to the test, with a range of stunts that will challenge our understanding of the world as we know it. They’re even going to attempt to break a world record along the way. A future of flying trains, walking on water and in which rain fall upwards, is closer than we think. The Edge of Science will premiere on the BBC Earth YouTube Channel.

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