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YouTube, the fast-growing video website, is to roll out its first branded “channels” aimed at offering advertisers the chance to promote specific products and services.

YouTube, which has become one of the most visited websites over the past 18 months, said Paris Hilton, the celebrity hotel heiress, would spearhead a push to offer “brand channels” to advertisers that wanted to promote their products to the You-Tube community.

The sites are similar to profiles created on MySpace.com, now commonly used to promote films, music and consumer goods.

YouTube’s efforts to make money out of its online audience by allowing advertisers to promote brands through customised “channels” and by encouraging users to create their own ads is a further sign that social networking sites are becoming powerful branding platforms.

YouTube, which was created just 18 months ago by two friends in California, has become the main place for viewing videos on the web, especially clips created by people themselves.

So far, advertising has been limited, partly reflecting advertisers’ caution about being linked with inappropriate home-made videos or illegal copies of professional material.

In addition, YouTube has not wanted to reduce its popularity by bombarding users with commercials.

Roisin Donnelly, marketing director for Procter & Gamble in the UK, said social networking websites such as MySpace and YouTube were “a very exciting, emerging channel. If it is relevant and the consumer is there and the content is there, there is no reason why we would not use it in the future.”

The move marks the most ambitious attempt yet by YouTube to monetise its huge and rapidly growing audience.

YouTube had already been exploring partnerships with companies such as Nike, which have experimented with uploading short advertisements or other video clips to the site for users to view.

YouTube claims that its users view and comment on as many as 100m videos each day – many of them home-made amateur videos uploaded by fellow users.

“This new medium requires finding a balance between traditional online advertising and new creative approaches that engage consumers in an active way,” said Chad Hurley, YouTube co-founder and chief executive. “Advertisers now have a highly targeted opportunity for aligning their brands alongside the entertainment experience people are enjoying on YouTube.”

Mr Hurley said the brand channels were one of several features YouTube was planning to promote this year.

On the Paris Hilton channel, Fox Broadcasting – part of News Corp, which owns YouTube rival MySpace – has paid to include a two-minute ad for Prison Break, a US television series.

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