The world’s biggest video sharing site is planning to ask users to pay for some content, starting this spring.
YouTube is aiming to take on traditional television broadcasters by offering extra channels which consumers will have to subscribe to – for between £1 and £3 a month – if they want to view.
The move by the website, owned by search engine giant Google, is being seen as an aggressive bid to compete directly with traditional TV for both viewers and advertisers.
At the moment, all YouTube content is free, supported by advertising which appears along with videos.
But YouTube has previously hinted that it was considering offering paid content. The firms CEO Salar Kamangar talked at a media conference in 2012 about the possibility of poaching cable networks facing difficulties building up big enough audiences to demand subscription fees.
“If we have a subscription model,” he said, “then absolutely that’s something that becomes possible. We have long maintained that different content requires different types of payment models. The important thing is that, regardless of the model, our creators succeed on the platform. There are a lot of other content creators that think they would benefit from subscriptions, so we’re looking at that.”
And now those hints look set to become reality. The company is said to be in talks with several video producers about creating specialist paid-for channels. YouTube is also thinking about charging to access content libraries and live events as well as self-help or financial advice shows.
While amateur videos were what made YouTube so popular, it would be a move towards professional-grade programming. It is understood that YouTube will enter into a test period with its new subscription service, offering around 25 channels to get it started.
As of yet, no content producers have confirmed whether they have been approached by YouTube, but it is understood non-disclosure agreements would prevent anyone from disclosing information.
Tech forum users reacted angrily to the news. One, simply calling themselves Purple Flower said: “At the moment, YouTube is filled with tutorials made by well-intentioned and generous people eager to share their know-how. Google charging for watching YouTube is like helping an old lady cross the road and then charging her for the favour.”
The move comes as a new Department of Justice investigation is launched in the US to look at whether cable firms are hampering competition for online-based video by imposing Internet data limits on consumers.
It also follows an earlier announcement by Google that it was pledging $100m, and another $200m in marketing costs, to create its own premium channels.
YouTube has gone from strength to strength since being created by three former PayPal employees in February 2005. Based in San Bruno, California, it displays a wide variety of user-generated content including movie and television clips, music videos and amateur content including video blogs and how-to videos.
Unregistered users can view content while those who have registered with YouTube can upload their own videos.