End of an era? YouTube launches paid subscription channels

10 May 2013

It looks like YouTube’s era of free online video is coming to an end as the social video network launches a small selection of fee-based subscriptions with an assurance that this is only the beginning.

Today, YouTube serves about 1bn monthly users and over 1m channels on the network are already generating revenue through the site’s advertising model. But, according to YouTube, these channel owners want other options for monetising and distributing their content.

The idea of paid subscriptions has been in the works for some time now and was expected to launch in spring this year. The pilot programme launched yesterday involves a small group of content creators from the YouTube Partner Programme who will now offer channels with subscription fees starting at US$0.99 per month. Each of these channels will offer a 14-day free trial and some are offering discounts for annual subscribers.

The selection of 53 channels covers various interests, from sports and entertainment to children’s programming. However, paid subscriptions are not yet available to Irish users. When visiting a paid channel’s page, such as Jim Henson Family TV, users will see $ icons next to the views counter under each video and hovering over this will tell them that this content cannot be viewed without a subscription.

Jim Henson Family TV - paid channel on YouTube

Detail from a screenshot of the Jim Henson Family TV paid channel on YouTube

So far, users that can subscribe can only do so through a computer, but they can still view content across other devices once they have done so and the subscription function will be rolled out to more devices soon.

This is just the start for YouTube’s paid subscriptions, which are set to spread over the coming weeks as a self-service feature for qualifying partners. YouTubers who would like to apply to become a paid channel can do so online.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.