YouTube is to launch a subscription service offering original, exclusive videos – including feature-length films starring high-profile vloggers.Initially only available in the US, YouTube Red will cost $9.99 (£6.50) a month and have no adverts.
PewDiePie, Rooster Teeth and Lilly Singh are among the well-known names involved.
Analysts suggested it could be difficult to turn millions of fans who expect free access to pay up.
“It’s great to see YouTube offer an alternative to an ad-only model,” said Brian Blau, an analyst with Gartner. “Consumers want choice and options.”
“But pay walls haven’t always done well and uptake depends on how users balance the attractiveness of the exclusive content and the pain of sitting through lots of ads.”
Ian Maude from Enders Analysis was also sceptical about the size of the audience it would attract.
“You are not going to see 50% buying this,” he said. “It’s going to be relatively small numbers.”
“But,” he added. “they might be able to hoover up some more money and from Google’s perspective it gets them into the high-quality, high-production value game.”
He said that YouTube, like other video-streaming sites, was seeking to become a platform that showed original content it bankrolled not just programmes made by other organisations.
“Google has deep pockets and a lot of money and it’s a space it needs to be in so it makes sense to me that they would want to be there,” said Mr Maude.
YouTube will offer US-based users a month’s free trial of Red from 28 October. International pricing and launches will be announced soon.
“For years, YouTube’s fans have been telling us they want more,” the company wrote in a blog post.
“More choice when watching their favourite content, more ways to support their favourite creators and, above all, the option to watch their favourite videos uninterrupted.”
YouTube Red original shows will include:
Scare PewDiePie – a reality adventure series as Felix reacts to situations inspired by his favourite games.
Sing it! – A comedy that satirises talent competitions
Lazer Team – A movie featuring four losers who find an alien ship carrying an strange cargo
A Trip to Unicorn Island – An in-depth look at the life of Lilly Singh as she embarks on a 26 city tour.
Single by 30 – a romantic drama about two high school friends who pledge to marry each other if they are still unwed at 30
Fight of the Living Dead – a reality show that puts popular YouTubers in a frightening zombie apocalypse to see how they cope
I Am Tobuscus – a comedy about a self-involved YouTube creator trying to be a big star
The roster also includes some as yet untitled items such as a show based around the science of video games that will be filmed for VR headsets, a reality series that puts YouTube stars into a murder mystery setting and an anthology looking at the absurdity of internet culture.
YouTube content will be able to be downloaded and watched offline, a contrasting approach to Netflix – its chief product officer last month said offline viewing wasn’t something users wanted.
The subscription will include access to YouTube Gaming and a new YouTube Music app, also announced on Wednesday. Google’s streaming music service, Google Play Music, will also be included.
This package deal of sorts could present a threat to Apple Music and Spotify whose services, which are solely audio, are roughly the same price.
While the free, ad-supported version of YouTube will remain as-is, the move represents the first time that YouTube will limit some material to paying customers only.
Those members will get productions featuring YouTube stars who regularly command audiences bigger than global broadcast giants, working with high-end production houses on the original content.
The first of these shows will be rolled out early next year.
Arguably the most well-known, PewDiePie – real name Felix Kjellberg – will be working with the executive producers behind blockbuster zombie series The Walking Dead on a “reality adventure series”.
The show will include “thrills, chills and laughter as PewDiePie encounters terrifying situations inspired by his favourite video games”.
Another show “takes popular YouTube talent and traps them in a frighteningly realistic zombie apocalypse. They must use their instincts and gaming skills to survive as they battle the elements for the ultimate prize of survival”.
In all, the company announced 10 original projects, including one project that will be shot in 360 degrees and designed to be enjoyed using a virtual reality headset.
The move represents YouTube’s gradual shift from being the first giant of the new media age to something resembling a more traditional media company, with executives deciding what content is made and promoted – albeit heavily influenced by online trends and viewing data.
Moving to a paywall model could be appealing to creators who could receive higher revenues from paying YouTube customers than they currently do from advertising revenue shared with YouTube.
However, that relies on YouTube’s ability to get an audience not used to paying for content to commit to a monthly subscription. Or, tougher still, YouTube has to convince the parents of those fans to start paying instead.
And breathing down YouTube’s neck is Facebook. After rolling out auto-playing videos to its news feed, the site recently started creating dedicated video areas, much like YouTube Channels.
Behind the scenes YouTube has been busy trying to convince advertisers that its viewers are comparatively more engaged than Facebook users in what they are watching – and that YouTube has stricter criteria over what exactly constitutes a “view”.