Paid YouTube channels: Would you subscribe?

Eric Gaillard/Reuters - A visitor is seen at the You Tube stand during the annual MIPCOM television programme market in Cannes, southeastern France, October 3, 2011.

YouTube has moved swiftly in the past year to produce more original content to keep regular viewers coming back to its site, rather than simply stopping by to see the latest viral cat video.

Now, the Financial Times reports that the paid model could go into effect as soon as this week, with as many as 50 subscription channels starting as low as $1.99 a month. The New York Times reported that channels could include those for children’s programming, entertainment, music and other topic areas.

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We’ve been here before. Chatter about paid channels has been circulating ever since Google, which owns YouTube, made its first push to release regular, original videos on its site by paying about $100 million to fund promising talent. AdAge and the Wall Street Journal reported in January that the new paid channels could launch as soon as this spring.

In a statement Monday, YouTube told The Washington Post that while it has nothing to announce at this time, it is “looking into creating a subscription platform that could bring even more great content to YouTube for our users to enjoy and provide our partners with another vehicle to generate revenue from their content, beyond the rental and ad-supported models we offer.”

Executives at Google have said that they expect 75 percent of all video channels to start on the Internet within the next decade, and it has clearly done its part to push that trend along. The most successful of these pull in serious revenue from advertising, and YouTube has said hundreds of its home-grown producers make at least six figures annually. The company has looking for way to make more money off the content it produces.

The most popular channels on YouTube have millions of subscribers (comedy Smosh leads with 9.6 million, according to VidStatsX). Some channels have become breakout stars in the YouTube world. The Young Turks political channel, for example, recently became the first news channel on YouTube to hit 1 billion views.

The ongoing shift in the way the average person watches video has been documented, and there’s money to be made in online television. The entertainment industry is paying close attention to how broadcast-quality Web TV experiments such as the Prospect Park studio’s revivals of “One Live to Live” and ”All My Children” on iTunes and Hulu or Netflix’s “House of Cards” perform.

Netflix, which recently reported that it has 30 million U.S. subscribers, passing the number boasted by HBO, predicted in a sort of media manifesto that the future of television is on the Internet. But Netflix is a fundamentally different company than YouTube. For their $7.99 monthly fee, consumers get access to a huge (if constantly changing) trove of high-quality content — much more than YouTube users would get with an equivalent number of paid channel subscriptions.

YouTube, with its shotgun approach, has been a lab for finding online audiences, such as bilinguals or gamers, that aren’t being served by current television. But to get those free viewers to throw the site a couple of bucks every month, YouTube will have to show it can deliver competitive, consistent, popular shows from the very start.

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