Roll Out the Carpet to YouTube Red

To cut commercial clutter from a diet rich in streamed entertainment, I agreed to pay Google $9.99 a month for its YouTube Red service across all my devices. Unlike free YouTube, there are no pre-roll commercials to fidget through. The countdown taunting viewers to put their lives on hold until the Skip Ad button appears is nowhere in sight. Intermercials that played between videos or regularly interrupted a full-length movie are gone.

I hadn’t felt a weight so heavy lifting from my chest since the advent of the quick-skip button on my first DVR. Time, depleted a thousand times a month by advertisers’ 30-second spots, seems more precious once you take back how it’s spent. Yet, there’s a lot more to YouTube Red than ad avoidance.

Equally important in terms of how Red improves the YouTube experience on mobile devices is the ability to download videos for offline use and the option to play videos in the background when you load another app. Offline play is crucial for using YouTube on your smartphone or tablet in locations where Wi-Fi isn’t available or to avoid cellular data charges that quickly amass from streaming video. Touch the downward arrow below YouTube’s play window, and the video is saved at your choice of 360p or 720p (depending on source quality) to internal memory. If your subscription lapses, saved videos go poof!

The background play feature will hide YouTube Red visually when you launch another app, but people forget that YouTube contains numerous choices in which video plays second fiddle to audio: children’s books read aloud, music videos or entire albums in which the only image is the jacket.

More significantly—and what sealed the deal for me—is that a YouTube Red subscription includes a Google Play Music subscription and its on-demand access to 30 million tunes. That means unlimited music without commercials, the ability to download music for offline listening, and the capability to play music in the background. (Conversely, if you subscribe to Google Play Music, you’re automatically enrolled as a YouTube Red subscriber.)

There is integration between Google Play Music and YouTube not found elsewhere, especially with tunes that defined early MTV. Launch the Tom Petty classic “Learning to Fly” on Google Play Music, and you’ll notice a button that launches the music video on YouTube. As you’d expect, the ’80s video is low res and low fidelity. I switched back to Google Play Music for more full-bodied sound.

YouTube is no Netflix when it comes to premium movies, having become a dumping ground for direct-to-VHS clunkers, old kungfu kickers, and black-and-white TV series. YouTube Red is starting to address this disparity by providing subscribers with a variety of original, professionally made content.

These include Scare PewDiePie, a reality adventure series inspired by video games; Sing It!, a scripted comedy that satirizes reality singing competitions; Lazer Team, a feature length action-comedy in which losers battle aliens; and Single by 30, a romantic drama series. None will set the world on fire like House of Cards, but compared with the usual claptrap of cat videos, these series offer exceptional production values and are likely to appeal to millennials.

The verdict? If you’re a frequent user of YouTube’s deep video depository catering to a vast array of individual tastes and hate having your time on earth being depleted by the forced viewing of commercials—and who can’t justify subscribing to more than one music service—then a YouTube Red subscription is well worth the cost.