YouTube signs Sony, preps site for studio content

Video site continues to strike important deals with major entertainment companies and plans a redesign to showcase professional movies and TV shows.

Move over Hotforwords, Lonelygirl15, and all the other YouTube stars. The video site is bringing in more professionally made content and plans to make it a marquee product.

Some of YouTube's most-watched contributors will get some competition from the likes of Sony Pictures. YouTube

The Internet's largest video site on Thursday announced that it has struck deals with a host of entertainment companies, including Sony Pictures, CBS (parent company of CNET News), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Lionsgate, Starz, and the BBC, to acquire "thousands" of TV episodes and hundreds of films. The new content will only be available in the United States.

YouTube executives also said during a conference call that they have redesigned part of its Web site to create separate areas for professionally made content. On the site's front door will be two new tabs.

"The 'Shows' tab allows you to browse shows by genre, network, title and popularity," YouTube said in a statement. "The 'Subscriptions' tab will grant logged-in users one-click access to fresh content from their favorite creators."

At this point, it appears the most significant partnership is with Sony Pictures, one of the largest Hollywood film studios. The studio has agreed to post several full-length feature films and TV shows to YouTube. Some of the TV shows include, "Bewitched," and "Charlies Angels" and among the films are "Blue Lagoon," "Single White Female," and "Nowhere to Run." CNET reported earlier this month that the companies were in talks about a feature-film deal.

Representatives from Sony Pictures declined to comment.

Movies from Sony Pictures will only trickle on to YouTube, at least initially. YouTube has agreed to display the films using a video player from Crackle, Sony Pictures' own video site. The studio will control all the advertising for the films and Crackle will also get credit for the traffic.

Also on Thursday afternoon, Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, suggested during a conference call about the company's earnings that YouTube could someday charge fees .

"With respect to how it'll get monetized, our first priority is on the advertising side," Schmidt said. "We do expect over time to see micropayments and other forms of subscription models coming as well, but our initial focus is on advertising."

YouTube, acquired by Google in 2006, also announced it is launching a test version of Google TV Ads Online. Advertisers will be enabled to insert their advertisements into the ad breaks within TV shows displayed online. But to do this, advertisers must first enter bids for the shows it wants.

YouTube said pre-roll and post-roll ads may also be bid on.

While most of the TV shows and films YouTube acquired are at least several years old, the Sony news marks YouTube's most significant Hollywood deal yet. YouTube was once called a "rogue" by Viacom executives, who claimed in a 2007 lawsuit that the company encouraged the posting of unauthorized copies of its material to the site.

The feeling by many in Hollywood was that YouTube was hostile to content creators. But over the past year, Google and YouTube have made the service more attractive to big movie and TV companies. The site has upgraded the quality of its streaming video and began filtering content to eliminate pirated material.

Another concern was that the site offered no copy protections on its streams, according to film industry insiders. YouTube solved that problem with Sony Pictures at least, by using the studio's own video player.

 

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