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YouTube is testing a hub of free, cable-style channels

The company is reportedly in talks with media companies to feature their shows and movies.

SOPA Images via Getty Images

YouTube is reportedly in talks with media companies to feature their TV shows and films in a hub of ad-supported channels. It's already testing the idea to weigh viewer interest. The platform could roll out the hub to more users later this year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

If YouTube moves forward with the plan, it would be entering a market known in the industry as Free Ad-Supported Streaming Television, or FAST. Players in that space include Roku, Fox's Tubi and Pluto TV, which is owned by Paramount Global (formerly ViacomCBS). Depending on what content it offers and how it sets up the mooted channels, YouTube could end up pulling more attention away from those services.

YouTube confirmed to the Journal that it's running a test in which a small number of users can watch ad-supported channels. “We’re always looking for new ways to provide viewers a central destination to more easily find, watch and share the content that matters most to them,” a spokeswoman said.

The service is said to have teamed up with the likes of Lionsgate, A+E Networks and FilmRise for the test. For media companies, such channels offer a way for them to earn revenue from content that might otherwise languish.

YouTube already offers ad-supported movies, but this hub could give users a bigger platter of free films and shows to watch. Its channels could operate in a similar way to Pluto TV. That platform has channels dedicated to reruns of certain shows — such as CSI, Doctor Who, South Park and Frasier — along with ones for reality series, live news and even sports.

The mulled move into FAST aligns with YouTube's strategy of expanding into other video formats beyond the content that's traditionally associated with the platform. In November, it broke premium streaming channels out of YouTube TV and into its main app. Showtime, Starz, Paramount+ and AMC+ were among the first Primetime Channels. More recently, YouTube locked down exclusive rights to the NFL's Sunday Ticket package in a multi-billion-dollar deal said to run for seven years.

YouTube already has the biggest share of TV viewing time among streaming services in the US, according to Nielsen. It beat Netflix for the third straight month in November with 8.8 percent of viewing time. Initiatives like the FAST channels and Sunday Ticket could help it lock up more mindshare and viewer attention.