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Canadian companies Corus, DHX Media, OUTtv help YouTube launch pay TV channels

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The corporate logo for DHX Media Ltd. (TSX: DHX) is shown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

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The corporate logo for DHX Media Ltd. (TSX: DHX) is shown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

HALIFAX - Canadian TV producers Corus Entertainment (TSX:CJR.B), DHX Media and OUTtv are among the partners helping Google's YouTube move into monthly subscription streaming.

YouTube announced Thursday that it has launched 30 premium channels in 10 markets, including Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., that can only be viewed with a subscription, priced as low as 99 cents per month. Each channel comes with a 14-day free trial.

Halifax-based DHX Media has three channels available for $2.99 a month or $24.99 a year each, which stream shows like "The Busy World of Richard Scarry," "Calliou," "Heathcliff," "Inspector Gadget," "Super Mario" and "Yo Gabba Gabba!"

"There is an insatiable appetite for kid's content in the digital universe across the globe and DHX Media is positioned with our extensive library of evergreen favourites to satisfy that demand," said executive chairman Michael Hirsh in a release.

Corus' channels, which are not available in Canada, offer children's favourites like "Babar," "The Berenstain Bears" and "Franklin."

OUTtv's Gay Direct, which is also $2.99 a month or $24.99 a year, bills itself as the "premier destination for the best in LGBT drama, comedy, variety, entertainment and feature film programming."

Chief operations officer Brad Danks said the deal reflects the company's strategy to sell its content internationally.

"It does present an opportunity for us to export Canadian content to seven countries and I have every reason to believe that Google will keep stretching to new territories over the next number of years," said Danks.

He acknowledged Netflix's monthly subscription fee of $7.99 dictated how much he felt YouTube users would pay for Gay Direct.

"We think it's exceptional value but Netflix has a pricing model you have to be aware of because your closest comparative is Netflix, really," Danks said.

"They're different in that they're an enormous aggregator but you have to sort of look at that. Based on that kind of measuring stick it was where (our price) would make sense. That can go up, that can go down in time, depending on how premium the service becomes and what the uptake is."

Although YouTube has rented and sold movies and TV shows from major studios since late 2008, most use the site as a free service. It's the first time YouTube is introducing all-you-can-watch channels that require a monthly fee.

In the field of paid video content online, YouTube is playing catch up to services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, all of which have millions of paying customers.

But with a billion monthly visitors from around the globe, the Google-owned video service hopes to quickly add subscribers and add to the money it already makes from online advertising.

"This is just the beginning," said Malik Ducard, YouTube's director of content partnerships. The site plans to roll out a way for a broad number of partners to also launch pay channels on their own soon.

Other channels will feature Roger Corman's campy B-movies, children's shows like "Sesame Street" and inspirational monologues by celebrities.

Corman, a producer and director whose influential cult classics like "Deathrace 2000" and "Piranha" earned him an honorary Oscar in 2009, said he's kept his 400-film library off of video streaming sites until now.

In an interview with The Associated Press, he said he turned down an offer from Hulu for about $5,000 to $6,000 per film several years ago, but sees promise in the YouTube offering. His channel, "Corman's Drive-in," will cost subscribers $3.99 per month for a rotating selection of 30 movies, refreshed with new interviews and clips from films that are in production. It is set to launch in June.

"I believed for many years that the future of motion picture distribution, particularly for the independents, is on the Internet," said the 87-year-old director. "I think the time is now."

YouTube will keep slightly less than half of the revenue generated by the subscriptions.

Corman's wife and producing partner Julie Corman said they were taken aback at YouTube's potential after a clip of their 2010 movie "Sharktopus" went viral with 11 million views.

If even one per cent of those viewers signed up for a subscription, it would amount to a healthy revenue stream, she said.

"The numbers are astonishing. We're waiting for the fireworks display," she said.

Big Think, a New York-based maker of educational videos, will give subscribers who pay $2.99 a month access to videos of luminaries like Malcolm Gladwell and also provide live question-and-answer sessions of an hour or more with experts.

Two new experts per month will be brought in to develop a series of four to six videos that are two to three minutes long. Each lesson is meant to distill advice that viewers can act upon immediately.

"This is e-learning for the YouTube audience," said Big Think president and co-founder Peter Hopkins. "We really had to take into account how to pack much more in and deliver on the promise of 'smarter, faster.' "

— with files from The Associated Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the producers were launching pay-per-view packages.

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