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YouTube tries something new with free ad-supported movies, from Hackers to The Terminator

Contributed by
Nov 19, 2018

No one’s going to confuse most of the titles that headline YouTube’s recently-launched section of free, ad-supported movies with anything that resembles a Best Picture all-star list. 

But the Google-owned web vid service, which recently has been shoring up its competitive bona fides in a Netflix-dominated streaming landscape, is betting you’ll be willing to sit through a few ads in exchange for anytime access to The Terminator, Hackers, and Bio-Dome (yes, Pauly Shore’s sci-fi comedy juggernaut; that’s the one!) — along with a growing roster of other films.

YouTube’s new Free to Watch section currently hosts about 100 feature-length titles that span movie genres, and you don’t have to be a subscriber to YouTube’s premium service to stream any of them. The list of movies on offer is comparatively small and ranges broadly (All Dogs go to Heaven and The Pink Panther are on here, but so are Agent Cody Banks and, well, Bio-Dome.) But the no-strings accessibility adds a layer of strategy to YouTube’s competitive play against Netflix, Amazon, and other services that operate only on a for-pay basis. 

It’s a move that could entice newcomers to stick around for Cobra Kai, Origin, and other YouTube originals that beckon just on the other side of the premium subscription plan’s $10 per-month paywall.

It’s also a way, according to Ad Age, for YouTube to ensure that the ads it does run appear alongside premium-level content, and not dubious videos that might drive advertisers away. “Last year, YouTube was under a microscope after major brands were alerted to their ads running inside offensive videos, some with terrorist propaganda and hate speech,” Ad Age observes.

YouTube reportedly plans to grow the Free to Watch section as time goes on. Will you be watching? Is it worth sitting through a few ads in exchange for being able to dial up Sarah Connor and Ahhh-nold, any old time the mood strikes? Let us know in the comments if you're on board.

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