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YouTube Begins Offering Paid Subscriptions; Will Viewers Bite?

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In a blog post, YouTube confirmed that it's beginning to offer paid channel subscriptions and is rolling out the feature with a small group of hand-selected partners. The paid channels page lists 53 partners. Subscription prices range from $.99 to $9.99 per month, with some offering discounted annual plans. Customers can view their subscriptions from web browsers, smartphones, tablets, and connected TVs. YouTube promises more devices to come, which could mean game consoles.

At launch, it's the children's channels that are getting the most attention. There are English and Spanish versions of Jim Henson Family TV, and Sesame Street will soon have a subscription channel. Parents can also subscribe to National Geographic Kids, Franklin the turtle, and Treehouse Direct. However, there's plenty for adults, including UFC Select, Laugh Factory VIP, and Gay Direct. Paid channels have no advertising. Apparently, no major broadcasters or cable studios opted to take part in the offering.

Customers can access a 14-day trial before signing on with a channel. YouTube says that this pilot program will expand to other qualifying partners in the next few weeks.

With subscription prices set aggressively (only one of the 53 partners offers a $.99 per month subscription) and with so much premium ad-supported content already available for free online, it's hard to see this becoming a success. While it feels like a path that YouTube had to explore, customers have shown that they prefer ads to subscriptions. The rollout will certainly get a lot of attention, but so did YouTube's $100 million original channel initiative. Check back in a year to see what subscriber numbers look like for these channels.

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