Is the free online video ride coming to an end? After months of hints and speculation, YouTube is experimenting with its first paid content. And Hulu is strongly rumored to be preparing to roll out a metered subscription service for some shows in the near future.
It would appear all media industries are starting to realize Web advertising dollars will only go so far, so the newspaper industry, music industry, and TV and film industries are looking at alternative ways of making the Internet pay.
Both YouTube and Hulu have been rumored to be seeking to add paid content to their line ups for a while, and while the Google-owned YouTube is now experimenting with this in a small way, Hulu is making bigger, more longterm plans.
Reports that YouTube was experimenting with a video rental business emerged in September, with movies set to be priced at $3.99 a pop. According to The New York Times, YouTube even trialled the scheme with Google employees.
Now, YouTube is offering its first five movies to a wider audience, teaming up with the Sundance Film Festival. The films – The Cove, Bass Ackwards, One Too Many Mornings, Homewrecker, and Children of Invention – will cost $3.99 and only be available for the duration of the festival.
It’s no surprise that YouTube is turning to independent filmmakers first, as it has had a long association with them in terms of promoting otherwise-little-seen documentaries and short films.
However, this is the first time the site has ever charged for the privilege.
Talk also began last year of Hulu charging for content. Rupert Murdoch and other execs are in favor of this strategy, and The L.A. Times is now reporting that some content could be moved behind a pay wall within six months.
A number of different plans are being considered, but the one most-favored would appear to be a metered subscription service.
This would mean the five most recent episodes of the most popular TV shows would be available to all for free, but older episodes and full seasons would only be available to watch if a monthly $4.99 subscription charge was paid.
If true, this would be a compromise to appease both those who want to use Hulu to make oodles of cash and those who want the service to remain free.
The newspaper and music industries have already realized that to fully embrace the Web they’re going to require more than a free-to-user, advertising-based revenue model. And it would seem online video is heading the same route as TV and movie companies turn the screw.
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