Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Get Your Obama to Go: YouTube Rolls Out Video Downloads

Check out this interesting product tweak from YouTube: the ability to download clips from the video site to your hard drive.

Right now, the feature appears to be limited to clips on President-elect Barack Obama’s “ChangeDotGov” channel. If you click on any individual video, like the slick movie commemorating Obama’s “whistle stop tour” from this weekend, you’ll see a small “Click to download” tag.

Until now, YouTube has required users to watch its clips via what was effectively streaming video–meaning you could only watch them on the Internet, either at YouTube or on a site that embedded YouTube video.

But now you can hoover up the Obama clips to your PC in unencrypted MPEG-4 format, which means you can view them on just about any piece of equipment you’d like–like, say your iPhone.

Internet copyright guru/Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig, who pointed out the change in a blog post this weekend, says that Google (GOOG) “is rolling this out slowly, initially with content that aspires to be consistent with principles of open government. I’m told it will be offered more generally.” I’ve asked YouTube for other details and will update if the company provides any.

Even if YouTube does offer this on many more videos, I’m not sure this will be a game changer for the site, or at least for its commercial prospects.

I don’t see YouTube trying to launch a rival to Apple’s iTunes (AAPL)–Google’s shown no interest to date in the very low-margin content retail business. And attaching ads to downloaded content is tricky, too: Ask the folks trying to scrape together a living in the podcast business, which has yet to gain much traction with mainstream advertisers.

But it could be very cool for people who aren’t interested in making money but just want to tap into Google’s awesome reach to distribute their videos as widely as possible. Say, leaders of the free world.

Don’t want to download the whistle stop video yourself? You can view it here, too:

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