DHX's Inspector Gadget

Google’s video site launches pilot of subscription-fee channels, with an average of $2.99 per month

YouTube is betting Internet users will pay a couple of bucks per month to select from a broad range of genre content — from “Sesame Street,” “Inspector Gadget” and NatGeo Kids content to UFC mixed-martial arts fights and horror movies — supplied by an initial roster of 30 partners.

The channels will average around $2.99 per month, but will start as low as 99 cents monthly. A full list of the 53 channels is available at youtube.com/channels/paid_channels.

One of top categories represented in the initial cut of YouTube pay channels, an initiative that’s been in the works for more than a year, is children’s programming. Partners on this front include The Jim Henson Co. (“Fraggle Rock” and “Sid the Science Kid”); NatGeo Kids; Baby First TV; Nelvana Enterprises; and DHX Media, whose 8,500-plus hours of children’s programming includes such shows as “Inspector Gadget,” “Caillou” and “Yo Gabba Gabba!”

Sesame Workshop, which will offer full episodes of “Sesame Street” through its pay channel on YouTube, has not yet launched on the site.

Video for adult auds also is among the first wave, including Mark Cuban’s HDNet series “Guys Night In” and films from independent movie distributor Magnolia Pictures’ Magnet banner; Cinedigm’s Docurama, featuring feature-length documentary films, one-quarter of which are new or recent releases; TNA’s Impact Wrestling; UFC Select; and The Asylum Net, which promises “the most outrageous in action, horror, sci-fi & more!”

“There is some content in the pilot rollout that has been on television, or in theaters for that matter, but there’s also content that comes from creators on YouTube who have built large audiences,” Malik Ducard, YouTube’s director of content partnerships, said on a call with reporters.

Over the next few weeks, YouTube plans to introduce a self-service feature, which will let qualified existing partners with free channels offer paid content as well.

“What we believe will resonate on the platform is enabling content creators to bring innovation to their content and bring it to their communities,” he said. “I want to be clear: This is just the beginning.”

The subscription-based YouTube channels aren’t specifically designed to compete against cable and satellite TV services, according to Ducard. But he said the site’s pay channel service will provide traditional nets a new way to reach audiences and monetize their content.

“TV content owners can build audiences on YouTube, but we really believe YouTube is not television, or one-to-one with TV,” he said.

YouTube is not a complete stranger to premium content: It already offers pay-per-view streaming movies and TV shows from major studios and nets. But it’s not clear how large that business is today. Starting in late 2011, the site also funded original, ad-supported channels to the tune of $200 million, but YouTube and some of its partners on that initiative have since pulled back.

“YouTube has always been about unleashing the growth of creativity,” Ducard said. He said more than 1 million free, ad-supported YouTube channels generate revenue today.

Content partners who participate in YouTube’s pay channels program will split revenue with the website. Ducard declined to disclose details of that arrangement, but said it would be similar to the ad-revenue share terms for existing free channels; under that deal, content owners receive 55% of the ad dollars on their channels.

To sign up for the channels, users must have a Google Wallet account with an associated credit card. All of the pay channels will be available for a free, two-week trial period.

YouTube’s pay channel partners have the option of whether they will carry ads or not. “YouTube shouldn’t make the decision about whether they have ads,” Ducard said, noting that most of the channels will not have advertising.

Ducard declined to speculate how many current YouTube users — which number 1 billion worldwide — might sign up for the pay channels.

YouTube will launch the subscription channels in 10 countries: U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, Japan, Korea, France, Spain, Russia and Brazil. Individual channel providers have the option of which territories they offer their services.

Other entertainment partners include Roger Corman’s Drive-In, with some of his 400-plus films and other content; Gravitas Movies, with independent titles; Digital Theatre, offering full-length British theatre productions; Bob Johnson’s RLJ Entertainment, whose Acorn TV channel provides a selection of Brit TV mysteries and other series and the newly launched OnCue, targeted at African-American and urban auds; PixL, stocked with romantic comedies and dramas; Big Star Movies with independent and international fare; and Alchemy’s Rap Battle Network.

Sports and fitness pay-channel content partners include: PrimeZone Sports, hosted by Deion Sanders; TN Marketing’s PGA Gold Academy; iAmplify’s Fitness Plus; Grace Creek’s Sportskool Plus fitness videos.

Lifestyle channels include Entertainment Studios’ Cars.tv with auto programming; Big Think’s Mentor with how-to workshops; GayDirect, targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered auds; Here Media’s Here TV Premium, also aimed at gay viewers; The Laugh Factory standup comedy channel; horror channel ScreamPix; Olympusat’s Hispanic-language family of Nuestro Pix channels; and Fix My Hog Premium, featuring motorcycle-maintenance tips.

Popular free YouTube news and politics channel The Young Turks will debut TYT Plus, featuring additional content.

The YouTube pay-channel platform supports live-streamed programming, Ducard said, although at first none of them will include it.

YouTube, which Google acquired in 2006, is the most popular Internet video service. The vidsite streams 6 billion hours per month across the globe, according to the company.

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