YouTube, the world's biggest online video site, launched a paid subscription service Thursday in a move that could mark the start of a major shake-up of web and television viewing.
Until now, the Google-owned site has relied solely on advertising to generate revenues from the more than 1 billion viewers who watch its 1 million-plus channels every month.
Under the new scheme, 30 video creators will be able to charge between 99 cents and 7.99 dollars a month to view their channels with an average monthly subscription of 2.99 dollars.
Users get a free 14-day trial period and can pay the monthly fee via Google Wallet, the credit card-supported service which Google uses to collect for its other paid content such as smartphone app or international calls over Google Voice.
Subscribers can access the channels on their computers, smartphones, tablets and Internet-connected televisions. Over time, other YouTube content creators will be able to opt into the subscription program, the company said.
Among the launch partners are the producers of Sesame Street and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. But major media players like Comcast Universal, ABC, and CBS were absent from the service, which could compete with conventional cable as well as web favourites such as Netflix and Hulu.com, where their programming is already available.
Instead, there are various niche channels such as Fix My Hog for owners of Harley Davidson motorbikes, kids channels, fitness channels and others.
"This is just the beginning," YouTube said in a blog posting. "We'll be rolling paid channels out more broadly in the coming weeks as a self-service feature for qualifying partners. We look forward to seeing how this great community of creators moves ahead with a new way to reach the fan communities that made their channels a hit."
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