Reuters is reporting that YouTube may consider selling subscriptions to viewers sometime in the near future. Speaking at the Reuters Media and Technology Summit, Salar Kamangar, CEO of YouTube and senior vice president of video at Google, said that smaller cable channels might have a place on YouTube, and could sell subscriptions through an a la carte option. He also stated that some of YouTube’s “top content creators” want to be able to sell subscriptions as well. Kamangar said the company is talking about subscription options “very carefully.”
The cable channels Kamangar mentioned are channels that have a small audience, and so don’t command many, if any, fees from cable distributors. These channels would lose little by offering their content directly through a YouTube subscription. Obviously, this is a shot across the bow of the cable industry, which is fighting as hard as it can to not simply become another utility industry, pumping out internet connections to homes the way electricity companies or water companies provide their products. Just this week, the U.S. Department of Justice began investigating cable companies for possible anti-competitive practices with regards to Netflix and Hulu.
As for content creators on YouTube, it’s likely that few of them would be able to charge subscription fees on their own. Groups of them could team up, though, creating their own channels. Recently, more for-profit YouTube channel ventures have been popping up, such as Felecia Day’s Geek and Sundry.
I suspect Kamangar said YouTube was discussing the prospect “very carefully” because it knows the uproar that would be caused if YouTube users were suddenly asked to pay for content that used to be free. Still, if YouTube can gather up enough quality content to make it work, it would be another step closer to breaking the cable company monopolies in the U.S. And when that finally happens, premium-quality channels such as HBO can finally be free to sell their content directly to willing customers, even without YouTube.