By Jason Del Rey
A new chapter in online video is about to begin. YouTube is prepping to launch paid subscriptions for individual channels on its video platform in its latest attempt to lure content producers, eyeballs, and advertiser dollars away from traditional TV, according to multiple people familiar with the plans.
YouTube has reached out to a small group of channel producers and asked them to submit applications to create channels that users would have to pay to access. As of now it appears that the first paid channels will cost somewhere between $1 and $5 a month, two of these people said. In addition to episodic content, YouTube is also considering charging for content libraries and access to live events, a la pay-per-view, as well as self-help or financial advice shows.
It’s not clear which channels will be part of the first paid-subscription rollout, but it is believed that YouTube will lean on the media companies that have already shown the ability to develop large followings on the video platform, including networks like Machinima, Maker Studios and Fullscreen. YouTube is also looking outside its current roster of partners for candidates.
These people said YouTube could introduce the paid channels as early as the second quarter of this year. One of them said that the channels could be introduced to the public at the Digital Content New Fronts in late April, where digital-media companies such as YouTube, AOL and Yahoo host advertisers for presentations announcing new online-video series.
YouTube has been talking about the possibility of paid subscriptions for some time now. A year ago, at at AllThingsD media conference, YouTube CEO Salar Kamangar talked on stage about the potential to poach second- or third-tier cable networks that were having trouble building big enough audiences on cable TV to command subscription fees from distributors. Internet distribution, the thinking goes, would give some of these networks a more direct line to their passionate base with lower costs .
"If we have a subscription model," Mr. Kamangar said at the time, "then absolutely that’s something that becomes possible."
"We have long maintained that different content requires different types of payment models," a Google spokesman said, in a statement. ‘The important thing is that, regardless of the model, our creators succeed on the platform. There are a lot of our content creators that think they would benefit from subscriptions, so we’re looking at that."
YouTube is treating paid subscriptions as an experiment, much like video rentals when it began in 2010. The initial group of channels will be small, likely about 25 at the outset. The revenue split from subscriptions is expected to be similar to the 45-55 split that is common for ads on YouTube. Partners will also have the option to include ads in their pay channels, but its unclear what form those will take.
YouTube is advising its current partners to consider carefully how their existing audience will react. Most have spent years building up a base of free subscribers through hard work and cross-promotion. Can they produce content worth paying for?
— Michael Learmonth contributing