Co. pacts with major Hollywood studios

YouTube’s vast lineup of programming just got a lot more interesting.

Company has brokered content deals with Sony, Lionsgate, the BBC, Starz, Discovery and National Geographic to offer up full-length movies and TV shows for free on the site. Other partners include Anime Network, Cinetic Rights Management, Current TV, Documentary Channel, First Look Studios and IndieFlix.

Deals are considered a way for Google-owned YouTube to compete more aggressively with rival video sites like Hulu that have been able to attract more advertisers with premium content; it’s been looking to operate more like a free HBO rather than a source for shortform videos of Domino’s staffers sneezing on pizzas, cats playing pianos or kids hallucinating after visiting the dentist.

YouTube plans to sell advertising during commercial breaks in TV shows. It may eventually charge for the premium content.

YouTube needs more ad dollars to become profitable: Google is expected to lose $470 million this year on YouTube, according to a report by Credit Suisse.

Pact is especially going to benefit the studios and TV networks, which are looking to bolster their own online businesses with more traffic.

YouTube attracted more than 100 million subscribers in February, according to comScore, and ranks as the leading video destination on the Internet with 41% of the online audience.

Sony wants as much of that audience to go to Crackle.com, the studio’s branded destination for movies and TV shows, which are free to view. Site, which makes its money from selling ads, has sought out new ways to make the site stand out and hopes YouTube will help build awareness for the destination.

Studio has 60 movies currently on Crackle but will provide YouTube with only a dozen pics as a taste of what Crackle has to offer.

“It’s all about driving traffic to Crackle,” said a source close to the deal.

Content from other partners will similarly send viewers to their owners’ proprietary video services or split ad revenue with YouTube.

Pics being offered include “Casino Royale,” “Super Size Me,” “Single White Female,” “Nowhere to Run,” “Drugstore Cowboy,” and “Slacker.” TV shows will include “Star Trek,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Bewitched,” “MacGyver” and “Jericho.”

YouTube is expected to pursue more Hollywood deals in the future as the Internet vid behemoth tries to change its image among consumers and advertisers.

It already brokered content deals with MGM and CBS for movies and TV shows and recently inked a deal with the Mouse House to offer clips of TV shows from ABC and ESPN as well as other Disney-owned properties. It’s also announced plans to launch a musicvid destination with Universal Music Group.

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