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After months of speculation, it’s official: YouTube is rolling out a new program that allows some of its premium channel partners to charge a monthly subscription fee for access to its content.

The new paid channel subscriptions are rolling out as a pilot program that includes a handful of partners. Each channel in the pilot will charge a monthly fee starting at $0.99, but every channel has a 14-day free trial period before the payments kick in. YouTube said some of its channel partners will even offer viewers the option of signing up for a 1-year subscription at a discounted rate. Videos from the subscription-based channels will be available across the web, set-top boxes, smart TVs, smartphones, and tablets.

So, why is YouTube rolling this out? Well, it really comes down to being able to offer its channel partners another way to generate revenue and really make YouTube a platform where they can build a sustainable business. In fact, the site  said “one of the most frequent requests we hear from [creators] is for more flexibility in monetizing and distributing content.”

Initially,  53 channel partners are participating in the pilot program, including Jim Henson Family TV, UFC Direct, TNA Impact Wrestling, National Geographic Kids, Rap Battle Network,, TYT Plus,, and Acorn TV. Subscribing to all the initial channels would cost about as much as what you’d expect to pay for extended basic cable TV service. But, most people probably won’t want to sign up for more than a few channels in this current line up anyways.

Obviously the YouTube paid channel lineup is no where near as good as cable’s, but imagine what it could be if some of the major TV networks jumped on board, not to mention over a million other channels that are currently generating revenue through the site’s partner program. (For example, $5 per month for a Daily Show/Colbert Report channel, $4 for a Nerdist channel, $3 for BBC America channel, etc.)

The YouTube subscription pilot program definitely has the potential to offer consumers a variety of channels while giving them the option of only paying for what they actually watch. That’s something U.S. consumers can’t do with the current crop of TV service packages. I’m sure major cable execs are shrugging off this announcement, but honestly it could become a real threat five years from now.

YouTube said it plans to roll out more channels in the coming weeks via a self-service platform for qualifying partners. That means channel partners will have the option of flipping on the subscription without having to clear it through YouTube or Google.

Do you think YouTube’s paid channel subscription pilot program will take off? Let us know in the comment section below.

Photo via Korosirego /Flickr

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