'Cobra Kai' Season One Released for Free on YouTube Amid Ad-Supported Push

Cobra Kai-season 2-Publicity Still-H 2019

For the last 15 months, it cost $12 per month to watch Cobra Kai on YouTube. Now, it's free. 

YouTube has made the entire 10-episode first season of the Karate Kid sequel available for free with ads, part of a shifting distribution strategy for its slate of original programming. The Google-owned streamer says it will now make all new original series and specials available at no cost with ads or via its ad-free subscription tier, called YouTube Premium. 

As part of the dual-distribution strategy, YouTube is releasing some of its older shows for free. The first season of Cobra Kai, for example, is being given an ad-supported window before the second season begins to roll out for free Sept. 11. Both seasons will only be available for free for a limited time. 

YouTube's shifting strategy has also seen the streamer cut back on its scripted originals production in favor of unscripted series that focus on music, education and well-known traditional and digital personalities. The company canceled scripted projects including Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television, Champaign ILL and Sideswiped and let go of dark comedy On Becoming a God in Central Florida, which has since premiered on Showtime. It now has a small slate of scripted originals, which in addition to Cobra Kai includes Liza on Demand and Impulse. Those shows will have their second season premieres Sept. 25 and Oct. 16, respectively.  

Meanwhile, YouTube has ordered more than a dozen new reality and documentary programs. It has personality-driven projects from talent including Justin Bieber, Alicia Keys and Paris Hilton. It has also picked up documentary The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash from director Thom Zimny, which premiers Oct. 8. And it has ordered three European series including Berlin Wall special Virtually History, out Nov. 6.

"YouTube propels popular culture and our new slate reflects our unmatched opportunity to celebrate the best and brightest parts of the platform," global head of original content Susanne Daniels said in a statement. "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."

YouTube launched Premium (previously named Red) in 2015 as an alternative to its main offering of user-generated videos. The company enticed people to sign up for the service by offering ad-free viewing, access to its music streaming product and original programming. YouTube has never disclosed how many people are signed up for Premium.

In late 2018, The Hollywood Reporter reported that YouTube would move to a dual-distribution model for its original programming, a move that would make shows like Cobra Kai available to its large audience of 2 billion logged-in users.

Now, all originals that premiere after Sept. 24 will be released for free with ads. The first seasons of Liza on Demand and Impulse are currently available to stream for free so that viewers can catch up ahead. 

"Today, we are welcoming a global audience to enjoy our award-winning series and specials," YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl said in a statement. “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."