youtube_logoAccording to Reuters, YouTube is playing around with the idea of a subscription model for users.

As part of their ongoing attempt to be profitable, the video portal has apparently been in talks for a while with movie studios to allow for movie rentals through YouTube.  A paid subscription model is a logical next step. David Eun, Google’s Vice President of Content Partnerships (how’s that for a title?), says that there’s a lot of content out there that YouTube isn’t able to access under their current model, such as full-length television episodes and movies.

Eun says they’re considering a variety of subscription models, including one that would work like current cable television does (pay a monthly fee and get access to a large amount of content for that month) as well as another that is more in line with how iTunes works (pay per content piece).

One of the battles they face in a move like this is that Hollywood studios are notoriously protective of their revenue streams–remember the recent lawsuit involving Redbox?  So bargaining with them for the right to show movies on YouTube might not be a simple conversation.  But there’s precedent, obviously, in the form of Amazon and iTunes rentals.

Of course, they’ll also have to be careful about how they pitch this to users.  YouTube rose to prominence, in part, because it is free.  And YouTube as you know it will continue to be free.  However, the masses have a tendency to freak out when they hear the word subscription being associated with something they’re used to getting for free.

So the question for you is this:  would you be willing to pay a YouTube subscription fee for new content like movies or tv episodes?  If so, how much would you be willing to plunk down.

The real tightrope here for YouTube is Hulu.  Hulu (and to a certain extent, FanCast) already offers full television episodes and movies… for free.  And it’s backed by a lot of major content producers like Fox and NBC.  So, what motivation does NBC have to make content available to YouTube when they could just put it on Hulu and keep the viewers local?  Let’s not forget that Hulu and YouTube are pretty much competitors on many fronts.  YouTube still gets far more visitors, and there’s that whole “user-created content” difference.  But essentially, a deal like this would only make YouTube and Hulu more direct competitors for the same audience.  I’m not sure how eager Hulu’s backers will be to see that happen.

It’s still far too early to speculate too much.  All that’s known, really, is that YouTube is dipping a toe in the subscription-model sea.  It’s yet another step that shows they’re constantly reevaluating what they need to do to get and stay profitable.