A slight lift mid-corner: We're canceling /DRIVE+'s annual subscriptions, but keeping monthly. It's not because we failed, but because we could wind up putting four-wheels off if we don't make a change. No idea what we're talking about? This is /DRIVE+
Last week we took steps to justify our dream jobs and bring us to break-even on the balance sheets by launching /DRIVE+, our subscription service on YouTube. It was our last option, a move we debated for nine months, and the only way for the brand to survive online. We've had a rapidly growing success story with our new NBC Sports relationship, but the partners of /DRIVE collectively agreed we need to make the online property work. The result was weeks coordinating with YouTube on rolling out the paywall. Within the first 48 hours, we got confirmation that the sign-up numbers were even better than we'd expected, and the conversion rate was greater than we'd thought it would be. The experiment was no longer an experiment; it was real. People were willing to pay for content. We weren't just setting precedent in the car community, this was quickly becoming media industry news. Too many people had their eyes on us and we knew we couldn't mess this up.
But it's always the unexpected obstacle that makes your foot lift when your mind says, "stay flat!" We expected a backlash, but suddenly we were reaching march-on-Washington status. Here was our core, our audience who we've grown with, the people we serve, acting like we'd just stole their most valuable possession. They felt betrayed. They claimed they were leaving, and yet the /DRIVE+ numbers kept growing. What was happening? This didn't make sense.
It got worse: Within minutes of every /DRIVE+ episode being published, they appeared on Torrent sites and other bootleg video platforms. At first, a smirk. "Our content is good enough to be stolen? Never thought we'd see the day." On paper, the plan has worked, all systems were go, but the plot thickened.
When we launched /DRIVE+, we set monthly goals for subscriptions. Within 48 hours, we passed our one-month milestone. Within 72 hours, we were approaching month two's numbers. Our immediate reaction was joy. (i.e., /DRIVE's going to survive!) But we all knew there was a bigger problem behind the scenes: We were pissing off way too many people in the process. And there was the piracy. We knew a small percentage of viewers would not be able to view our content immediately. But we didn't expect this small percentage to be the loudest. They certainly let their voices be heard. And the clock was ticking, subscribers would only have 14 days for free, before their credit cards would be charged. Did we want to proceed with this? Were we going to be able to combat the piracy? And The biggest issue. When are we going to be able to reach all corners of the earth? When was YouTube's platform going to get the features we needed?
For months, we spoke with YouTube about this experiment. Our relationship with YouTube has been strong for years, from the dawn of shows like FastLaneDaily. We've tested new product with them, new initiatives, and it's always gone right. And this time, again, it's gone right. But we may be too early. It's safe to say, our content team is faster than Google's coders. We needed to push our content before they were ready to launch. That was a bad move.
And because of this, we just don't know when YouTube paid channels are going to roll out to more countries. So we're going to continue to treat this as an experiment, taking it month by month. As of today, /DRIVE+ is canceling annual subscriptions. You'll still be able to be billed monthly, but we don't want to commit to a platform that can't give us dates on when we'll be available in other countries. We're exploring our options, including Vimeo and other providers. It's an ongoing process, I hope you'll bear with us. And please excuse the mid-corner lift; the next lap will be better. But if you continue to pirate our content, we're heading to the garage and having a beer, with each other, as friends.