YouTube may begin offering subscription services that allow users to watch major new TV shows and films online, according to a senior Google executive.
While a number of broadcasters - including Channel 4 and Channel Five - have already forged deals with the Californian website to show full-length programmes online, the company indicated yesterday that it may consider paid options as well.
In an interview with Reuters, Google executive David Eun - who is in charge of partnerships with media companies - confirmed that paid subscription was an option as it tries to convince more TV channels and Hollywood studios to sign up.
"We're making some interesting bets on long-form content; not all content is accessible to us with the advertising model," he said.
The move would be an attempt to forge agreements with more rights owners, many of whom are reluctant to put their content online without adequate compensation.
Until now, the site has remained resolutely free for users and attempted to make its money through advertising. It has made limited deals to show movies on the site, as well as agreements such as the one with Channel 4, which was announced in October. Rather than charging users, these deals are based on a revenue split from the commercials attached to the programmes and films.
Despite these successes, however, the site - which Google bought for $1.65bn in 2005 - has not found it so easy to convince other broadcasters to follow suit. Hollywood studios have been notoriously testy about the possibility of putting more recent movies online with only the prospect of a share of advertising revenue in return.
"I think a free model is a very difficult way to capture the value of our content," said Chase Carey, the president of News Corporation - which owns broadcasters including Fox and Sky, as well as studios such as 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight - earlier this year.
Instead, Google hopes that offering money raised through subscriptions can tempt broadcasters to put their content on the site. The possibility of a pay-per-view model - such as the one used by Apple's iTunes store or Amazon's on-demand video service - could also be on the cards.
Google chief executive Eric Schmidt has said that making money from YouTube is a "top priority", with some analysts estimating that the site will haemorrhage as much as $470m (£288m) this year alone.
Although the site is a household name that commands hundreds of millions of visitors each day, it has found it difficult to successfully cash in - with advertising attached to viral videos and user-generated content collecting paltry amounts of revenue.
Such a move could also help YouTube fend off growing rivals like Hulu - the US website that operates as a joint venture between NBC, News Corporation and Disney.
Since launching publicly in 2008 with a slate of hit shows including House and The Daily Show, Hulu has become the second most-watched video site in America. It is thought be considering expansion plans outside the US, which would include a move to Britain.
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