Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

YouTube Finally Opens Up Its Movie Rental Store For Real (Sort Of)

YouTube has finally come clean about its movie service. Via a blog post, Google’s video site acknowledged plans that leaked out last month to beef up its rental store with more movies from major Hollywood studios.

As I wrote in April, YouTube is adding movies from big studios including Time Warner’s Warner Bros., Sony and Comcast’s Universal to existing service, which has previously had a limited selection of titles from small studios.

For now, the YouTube movie store appears to be a work in progress: Google says it will rent newish movies like Inception, The King’s Speech, Little Fockers from the store, but so far I can’t find any of them. Same goes for new old titles like Caddyshack, which are also MIA.

Once YouTube gets this thing ready for prime time, though, it’s going to look very similar to what consumers can already get from competitors like Apple and Amazon: The ability to rent a movie that they can watch anytime over a 30-day period, except that once they start watching it they’ll have 24 hours before it evaporates. Pricing should be comparable to YouTube’s peers — $3.99 for new movies $2.99 for older ones.

Beyond that, the only wrinkles of note here:

  • As I reported last month, the movies will be streamed, not downloaded. So presumably you’ll need a live Web connection to watch them, unlike Apple’s videos, which reside on your device for the duration of the rental.
  • It’s unclear whether consumers will have to sign up for Google Checkout or some other Google-specific e-commerce platform to rent the movies; a FAQ sent out by Google only mentions that “the service accepts all major credit cards.”. Not linking the service to a Google account may make things slightly easier for consumers, since it’s an extra step they won’t have to take. On the other hand, you’d think Google would be very interested in establishing a credit card relationship with their customers, like Amazon, Apple and Netflix do.

By all accounts, this is an intermediate, incremental step for Google, which has had movie rentals for a year but hasn’t had much to show for it. Now it has the backing of some big studios, but is missing others, including News Corp.’s Fox (News Corp. also owns this Web site), Viacom’s Paramount and Disney.

Even if YouTube does bring on more partners — Paramount seems like a particularly long shot, given the ongoing Viacom/YouTube lawsuit, but the rest could show up one day — that will just bring Google up to par with other online a la carte movie rental outlets, which haven’t gained much traction yet.

Nothing wrong with that, but that doesn’t seem to be the end game for either Google or the studios. Google seems interested in building up YouTube, period. And if making video rentals available as part of the huge swell of content that lives on the site helps, then great.

The movies will also work on Google TV, which can use any help it can get. So that’s good, too.

At least part of Hollywood, meanwhile, seems to believe it can keep its DVD business alive by launching a locker/cloud system that would give disc owners the right to watch their movies whenever they want, on different devices . They’re also gung ho about anything that isn’t a Netflix all-you-can-eat subscription plans.

I’m doubtful that can work. Because beyond kids’ movies, which get watched hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times (I know the name of every character in Cars – try me!) most consumers don’t want to watch a movie multiple times. It’s not like a music collection, which does make quite a bit of sense in the cloud.

But the studios seem to like this idea, and at least some of them are convinced Google can help them do it — or, at least, provide leverage with other potential cloud partners, like Apple or Facebook. Watch for more developments in this vein.

And while you’re waiting, you can try renting a movie from YouTube.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work