YouTube will be experimenting with an option over the next few months that will let a handful of channel partners charge a subscription fee for their content, according to sources knowledgeable with the plans.
The ability to charge monthly access fees, which will be split between YouTube and its content partners, will introduce a new revenue model for the company, which makes its money primarily from advertising.
YouTube, however, has expanded beyond advertising in recent years. In 2010, for example, the San Bruno, Calif., Google subsidiary introduced a rental option for premium video content. Last year, YouTube’s chief executive Salar Kamangar, speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s Dive Into Media conference in January, hinted at YouTube’s intent to diversify its revenue sources via subscriptions.
The company, in a statement, reiterated Kamangar's comments: "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 our content creators that think they would benefit from subscriptions, so we're looking at that."
The subscription option is unlikely to turn YouTube into a pay-for-play experience overnight. The company has historically moved carefully into new business models, iterating and refining them before unleashing them broadly across its site. Video rentals, for example, took two years to completely roll out.
In addition, not all content will disappear behind a paywall, particularly as younger viewers who make up a good portion of YouTube's users lack credit cards and as online audiences in general have proved highly resistant to paying for content. YouTube now seems ready to tackle that problem by working with select premium channel partners to develop entertainment experiences compelling enough to persuade its users to open up their wallets.