The world’s largest video website, YouTube, has unveiled its first subscription channels as the Google-owned service made a long-anticipated move to include pay channels to encourage professional content.

The move puts Google into direct competition with online services such as Netflix and Hulu, which offer subscription-based services and have been luring viewers away from cable and broadcast TV.

"Starting today, we're launching a pilot programme for a small group of partners that will offer paid channels on YouTube with subscription fees starting at $0.99 per month," a YouTube blog statement said on Thursday.

The statement said this is part of an effort begun in 2007 "that enables content creators to earn revenue for their creativity".

YouTube released a list of about 50 channels which will be part of the programme.

"Every channel has a 14-day free trial, and many offer discounted yearly rates," it said.

"This is just the beginning. We'll be rolling paid channels out more broadly in the coming weeks as a self-service feature for qualifying partners.

“Subscribers will be able to access the channels from a computer, phone, tablet or TV, "and soon you'll be able to subscribe to them from more devices," the statement said.

Third-largest 'country'

The new subscription service will be available in 10 countries at launch.

Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65bn. The service is believed to generate a small amount of revenue from advertising, but the content has been free up to now.

YouTube has gradually added professional content, such as full-length television shows and movies to its vast trove of amateur video offerings in a bid to attract advertisers.

The new paid channels include Acorn TV, which offers ad-free British TV programmes at $4.99 per month; National Geographic Kids, at $2.99 a month; and PrimeZone Sports, at $2.99 per month.

Earlier this year Google said more than a billion people use YouTube each month, with viewing on smartphones helping drive growth.

"If YouTube were a country, we'd be the third-largest in the world after China and India," the team said in March.

Source: Agencies