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YouTube is launching an ad-free subscription service. Content from some of its most popular stars will be locked behind a pay wall. It's not the first time YouTube has tried to get its customers to pay. And as NPR's Laura Sydell reports, the same question remains. Will people pay for something they're used to getting for free?
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Among the starts that YouTube trotted out to announce its new service...
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FELIX KJELLBERG: How's it going? My name is PewDiePie.
SYDELL: ...PewDiePie - real name - Felix Kjellberg. He's one of YouTube's most popular personalities. He's got nearly 40 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, and mostly, they watch him play video games and make funny comments. Now those who are willing to shell out nine-ninety-nine a month, or 12.99 for iPhone users, can gain access to him without watching ads. And they get to see special projects, like an upcoming film in which PewDiePie puts himself in supposedly terrifying real-life situations inspired by video games.
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KJELLBERG: I signed up for this, so I'm OK. But really, I'm not OK. I need help.
SYDELL: Susanne Daniels, YouTube's vice president of original content, is not scared about making YouTube fans pay.
SUSANNE DANIELS: I think we have an amazing opportunity to take starts who have risen up democratically on YouTube and give them a new, bigger, bolder platform to entertain their fans.
SYDELL: As part of the package of what's being called YouTube Red, there will be a seperate app that includes music from YouTube and Google Play. Though right after the announcement of the pay-for service, Twitter lit up with angry YouTube users, including a petition to stop YouTube Red because it will divide fans between haves and have-nots. Analyst Rob Enderle says it's going to be hard to get people to pay for YouTube, a site that started with homemade videos and the tagline broadcast yourself.
ROB ENDERLE: Once you've established a position that basically you can get anything you want for free from a company, now trying to get people to pay for it - they'll scratch their head and figure, why should I; it's always been free before.
SYDELL: Google, which owns YouTube, has tried twice before to get people to pay for video content and failed. There's also concerns that YouTube artists may not do as well financially under the subscription model. But Rich Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG, thinks consumers are getting used to the idea of having a service where you pay for ad-free. Think Spotify, Pandora, Hulu.
RICH GREENFIELD: If 1 or 2 percent of the world's YouTube monthly user population pays, that would be - what? - 14 to 28 million paying subscribers? That would be a pretty tremendous subscription business.
SYDELL: Though oddly enough, YouTube says among its 10 most popular videos over the last year, four were advertisements. Go figure. Laura Sydell, NPR News.
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