In a low-budget early effort to compete with satellite and cable TV providers, YouTube is set to announce Friday that it has partnered with several entities to roll out television-style channels with professionally produced shows that will strike a sharp contrast to the short videos of crazy cats, skateboard wipeouts and other amateur content that made the site famous.
The online TV channels will be programmed by the likes of BermanBraun, FremantleMedia, Shine Group, The Wall Street Journal, pro skateboarder Tony Hawk and actors Ashton Kutcher and Amy Poehler.
Insiders said the Google-owned property has shelled out some $150 million in advances for the creation of about 100 channels, with a maximum $5 million going to any single channel. Financial details were sketchy on Friday, though The Wall Street Journal reported that deals call for YouTube recouping its advances then giving as much as 55 percent of the ad revenue to the content creators.
News of the bold initiative has been leaking piecemeal for months, but sources say YouTube will make the announcement official, including a list of some 100 partners, sometime Friday.
Other partners getting their own YouTube channels include World Wrestling Entertainment, HSN, Ben Silverman's Electus, "CSI" creator Anthony Zuiker, Everyday Health, Iconic Entertainment and former NBA player Shaquille O'Neal.
And the Journal says that Sofia Vergara of the ABC show "Modern Family" will be featured on a Hispanic channel.
YouTube is no stranger to premium content, as it has been allowing users to rent Hollywood feature films for several years, and insiders say the company is readying an initiative for renting traditional TV shows in a similar a la carte fashion. The channels announced Friday, though, are distinct from those efforts in part because their content is created exclusively for YouTube.
Most of the channels won't launch until next year. When they're up and running, they'll feature about 25 hours of new and original programming each day.
Google isn't interested in making YouTube merely the best video site on the Internet - it's already by far the most popular, attracting some 160 million unique users each month - but also a legitimate threat to traditional TV, insiders and analysts have said. It's not a farfetched goal, given the advancements of Google TV, Apple TV and other technologies that put Internet video on TV screens. It's also a worthwhile goal, of course, given that the $60 billion TV advertising business in the U.S. is about 30 times larger than the video-ad market on the Internet.
YouTube's announcement will come after Yahoo and AOL recently unveiled pushes into premium video series with big-name talent like Mark Burnett.
Companies like YouTube, Yahoo and AOL "are increasing online video offerings to keep pace with or push further the evolution of media distribution," said Benchmark Capital analyst Clayton Moran.
"Video garners more user attention and greater advertising rates than traditional online content. The risk is that video also costs more to produce and much of the cost to creating original programming is up front," Moran said. "YouYube appears well-positioned with a strong brand and large user base."
A full list of content partners is forthcoming.