YouTube Channel Watcher Apologizes After Massive Fan Backlash to Streaming Service Launch

The three YouTubers of the Watcher channel sitting on a couch with money logos in the background
Watcher Apology Streaming Service Watcher/YouTube Malinovskaya Yulia/Shutterstock

On April 19, YouTube channel Watcher announced that it would be moving off the platform to its own paid subscription video service. Fans were so unhappy, that three days later, Watcher issued an apology.

The announcement video, “Goodbye YouTube,” has over 1.7 million views. In it, members Steven Lim, Shane Madej, and Ryan Bergara share that they struggled to make high-quality content while working within YouTube’s algorithmic ecosystem.

“It’s difficult to make the stuff that we want to make and then also appeal to their advertisers,” Lim said. 

Its April 22 follow-up, “An Update,” features the trio looking solemn (almost as much as their fellow BuzzFeed alums, the Try Guys, did in their infamous couch apology video.)

In the update, the Watcher team gives an apology for how they “delivered” their goodbye message. They added that “it was insensitive” and said they “will be taking it as a serious learning experience.” 

In addition, Watcher announced that its videos would be posted to the Watcher app a month early but then uploaded to YouTube, in order to provide a more accessible viewing option for fans who can’t afford the new streaming service. Patreon subscribers will also get a free subscription. 

What is Watcher?

The Watcher trio made a name for themselves on BuzzFeed nearly a decade ago. Their viral series included “BuzzFeed Unsolved,” where they discussed open and confusing cases, and its spinoff “BuzzFeed Unsolved Paranormal,” where they hunt ghosts.

Eventually, the group realized they had working formats and an audience. So they spun off into their own YouTube channel, Watcher.

Watcher started in 2019 and was an immediate success. It pulled in hundreds of thousands of views, and it retooled many of the group’s previously successful formats refined through BuzzFeed’s giant platform. 

But after five years, Madej said in the initial announcement video that the group “hit a bit of a ceiling on what YouTube has to offer.” So, they decided to launch their own subscription streaming service.

Their new Watcher streaming service will cost $5.99/month or $59.99/year. Fans who sign up during a beta period until May 31 will get a 30% discount on their first year.

The YouTubers said fans could expect upgraded versions of their shows with higher production values (and international ghost hunts). Currently, the site is in an “early launch.” It currently only hosts episodes of their shows that are also available on YouTube.

Initially, before backpedaling with its apology video, Watcher said its first full member-exclusive series was coming in May. From then on, it intended to only post trailers and season premieres on YouTube — aka, no more free watching for fans.

Fans Aren’t Happy

The announcement video appeared online to a large cry of boos and confusion. In just a weekend, it received 35,000 likes and 215,000 dislikes. The channel also lost over 100,000 subscribers, according to SocialBlade.

Viewers who stuck by the group through tumultuous times and their first platform swap with BuzzFeed said they felt they were being grounded for money. The 29,000-member Watcher subreddit lit ablaze, with top-upvoted threads titled, “Anyone Else Just Sad” and “I Don’t Think Watcher Is Coming Back.” TikToks trashing the streaming service received millions of views, and things were just as brutal over on X

Watcher already crowdfunds with a successful Patreon, offering tiers between $5 and $25 a month. These memberships used to offer early access to episodes, live streams, and extra content. The original plan before the recent apology, according to a leaked Patreon message from Watcher, was to pivot Patreon membership to focus on its PodWatcher podcast, AMAs, and merch discounts. 

TikToker Millenial Movie Aunt, who has already paid for a year of Patreon in advance, posted a video lamenting this change. In the video, which gained over 153,000 views, she said, “Nobody bothered to tell me until it happened already.”

YouTubers Want More

For a couple days, the Watcher group did not release an official statement addressing some of these concerns. But there were some comments from those close to the scene.

“I get people don’t like to pay for once-free things. But paying people fairly and making a survivable living while making cool things is HARD. Even with ads,” Madej’s wife Sara Rubin posted on her Tumblr. 

Creators taking control of their careers and not relying on the whims of platforms isn’t a bad idea. Dropout, a streaming service born out of the ashes of the once-thriving Collegehumor, has had great success with a streaming model. Its showrunner Sam Reich told NPR in 2023 that Dropout had “hundreds of thousands” paying subscribers. 

But Watcher was never a media conglomerate. While Dropout has over 14.8 million YouTube subscribers, Watcher has just under three million. It’s hard to believe they will have the reach or audience needed to keep the service running.

A Troubled Streaming Ecosystem

It’s also not a good time to get into the streaming business. While streaming titan Netflix is seeing record earnings, it’s one of the few profitable streaming giants. Disney combined its streamers Disney+ and Hulu, and neither was profitable in 2023, according to its recent financial report.

If Hollywood still hasn’t figured out streaming, it’s hard to believe that Watcher can. 

In one swift move, Watcher shocked its entire community and made its fans unable to consume without paying a fee. The original video forced the trio to rethink their approach to something more reasonable. 

Though it was a confusing move with an apology, the service could still work. If somehow the Watcher folk manage to crack the formula and come up with a working ad-free model, all the naysayers will be silenced.

But until then, most of us will just be questioning from the sidelines if a channel of rag-tag YouTubers can work as a streamer. 

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