Competition for eyeballs is about to grow in one huge leap. Google said its YouTube online portal would soon introduce dozens of new online channels featuring major names from Hollywood and other entertainment companies, the company has announced. The venture may grow to be 100 channels by next year.
Google has offered cash advances to producers that totaled more than $100 million, according to some news reports, as well as grants of television production equipment including cameras and editing gear.
"We're looking for the next generation of MTVs and HBOs — just like cable," said Rishi Chandra, the director of product management for Google TV.
The YouTube content will cover 19 categories, with some channels targeting specific audiences — including Hispanics, home-and-garden, mothers, teens and animal lovers.
The new original programming will involve celebrities such as singer Madonna, rapper Jay-Z, actor Ashton Kutcher, wellness guru Deepak Chopra and former NBA star Shaquille O'Neal, as well as comedians, sports stars and other entertainers. Channels will also include Car and Driver Television, Felicia Day's Geek & Sundry, Machinima, Pitchfork TV, RIDE (Tony Hawk's channel), Slate, The Bowery and The Onion.
Producers that are said to be on-board include the Hearst Corporation, Thomson Reuters, the "Wall Street Journal," Demand Media and the TED Conferences. Programming will come from a wide range of television production companies — ranging from major producers like FremantleMedia to start-ups like Maker Studios, YouTube said.
Google plans to offer a revenue-sharing plan with content providers of up to 55 percent of ad revenues after the company has recovered its advance money. According to the terms of the plan, video content must remain exclusive to YouTube for 18 months and cannot be removed from Google for three years. Popular shows are said to be likely to recoup their cash advances within two years.
Google thinks that the Internet is the next big phase of the television business. "We're not going from three to 300 channels but to millions of channels," Mario Quieroz, head of Google TV, said in a recent interview. "The Web is essentially infinite content."
YouTube, he said, is not trying to compete with cable. "We don't believe the Web is going to replace linear TV," Quieroz said. "This is designed to be complementary to cable TV."
The upgrade of content on YouTube comes after years of home and pet videos supplied by amateurs. The first of the new channels will come online in November, according to people involved in the productions, but others will not be ready until 2012. All will be free for viewers and supported by advertisers.