Will YouTube Really Put 4K Videos Behind a Paywall?

Several users have reported that YouTube is experimenting with limiting 4k videos to premium subscribers only.
youtube 4k premium

YouTube may limit access to 4K video content on its platform to only subscribers to YouTube premium. For the first time, YouTube would restrict access to higher-quality videos, like 4K, behind a Premium subscription. It actually has some similarities to the soon-to-be-shutdown Stadia Pro subscription, which allowed users to test Stadia games in up to 4K with HDR colors and 5.1 surround sound.

The new restriction on 4K videos is probably only being tested with a small user group to get feedback on the change. According to TechCrunch, some YouTube users on Twitter and Reddit posted screenshots showing that YouTube had requested them to upgrade to its premium tier to watch videos in 4K, which was initially accessible to all users.

Some users have recently reported seeing messages that restrict the viewing of 2160p video in recent weeks and designating it as a premium feature. A few people have also recently noticed that YouTube now specifies that users must pay YouTube Premium subscribers to watch 4K videos on iOS and, presumably, across other devices.


Due to YouTube’s paywall, the 4K quality option may not be available to all users. YouTube has later verified through Twitter that the new restrictions were part of an experiment to better understand the feature preferences of premium and non-premium viewers.

Freemium to premium subscribers

YouTube Content ID Anspruch
YouTube Content ID Anspruch by Arrcookie2803 under CC BY-SA 4.0

YouTube has experimented with several strategies to turn free users into paying ones. The company is known for its very aggressive advertising, with 9to5Google reporting that one of the infamous examples involved placing as many as ten unskippable ads at the beginning of a long video to allow users to enjoy an uninterrupted experience. Google might opt against restricting 4K videos to YouTube premium in response to user complaints.

YouTube Premium

YouTube Premium trial notice 2020
YouTube Premium trial notice (2020) by Alphabet, Inc. (Google)

As of now, the YouTube premium subscription has disabled ads from the platform. It allows premium users to play videos in the background on Android, iPhone, and iPad and even to download songs and videos for offline viewing. The 4K premium subscription includes YouTube Music, Google’s music streaming service.  


While YouTube often offers free trials, the standard YouTube premium subscription in the US costs $11.99 each month. In its Q2 2022 earnings, Google reported that YouTube made $6.87 billion in revenue — which was significantly below the projected $7.51 billion. Hence, it’s not surprising that the company may explore innovative ways to increase the number of paid users for its video streaming services.

YouTube announced in September 2022 that it had attained over 50 million subscribers on its YouTube Music and YouTube Premium, a small fraction of its over 2 billion global users. That was a significant potential for Google to upsell revenue after the company suffered a recent decline in profits. If Google implements the change and, given the widespread adoption of 4K resolution TVs, being limited to ads-filled, 1080p resolution videos may compel some YouTube users to go premium reluctantly.

YouTube TV unveiled a new program last week that allows users to subscribe to add-on channels like HBO Max, Showtime, and MLB.TV and NBA League Pass without subscribing to a $64.99 per month base plan.


It’s unclear if YouTube will restrict non-premium users to 1440p video quality

One unclear thing in light of the most recent development is if YouTube would genuinely limit all non-premium users to 1440p video quality. Users are being asked to provide feedback on the limitations so that the corporation can make changes.

4k resolution

According to a YouTube Tweet on Sunday, the company explained that “The users involved are “part of our experiment to help us better understand the feature preferences of non-premium and premium viewers.” The company didn’t openly announce the changes before their introduction but did ask for comments about them

“It appears that you are a part of our experiment to better understand the feature preferences of non-premium and premium viewers,” TeamYouTube tweeted. “Kindly share your thoughts about the features so the company could ‘make improvements,’ TeamYouTube adds.


It is unclear how the change would impact many users or whether it will apply to all free users. However, it could significantly transform the service in many ways.

What’s in it for YouTube?

In addition to increasing YouTube’s revenue, the change might reduce its service costs. If free users are restricted to lower resolutions, then the High bandwidth requirements of 4K video could mean a cost reduction.

YouTube isn’t the only one struggling under the weight of video streaming. Netflix, which already restricts 4K to more expensive subscriptions, has cracked down on password sharing and added an ad-supported tier to boost profits.


Before this, YouTube experimented with “Premium Lite,” a cheaper ad-free service that offered video streams but without the added perks of the premium level.

What users should understand

It’s important to note that YouTube frequently tests changes to features or tweaks. As of this writing, no official word has been said yet on the scope or continuation of any test related to paywalling 4K resolution.

However, if YouTubers were to eventually paywall 4K resolution, it might assist grow the number of Premium subscribers and boost subscription income.


Final thought

It seems that this may be another effect of Google’s recent effort to tighten its belt, which has led to a slowdown in recruiting, reduced divisions, and outright discontinued several services. Theoretically, reserving 4K and higher resolution broadcasts for YouTube premium subscribers might lower the cost of using YouTube for free users while also incentivizing new subscribers.

Featured image: Activate youtube tv.jpg by Jackyyyr under CC BY-SA 4.0