YouTube, owned by Google, is entering the movie rental business. It will charge $3.99 (using Google Checkout, the parent company's on-line payment system). At the outset, YouTube is only offering five films from the Sundance Film Festival, and they can only be viewed from Friday to the end of the festival on Sunday. Is this a big deal, or what?
  • A BIG DEAL. Watch Out Netflix, iTunes and Amazon, says Computer World's Seth Weintraub. Like most Google projects, it starts innocent enough...but that's just the beginning... It wouldn't be hard to see Google offering movies at much lower prices than Apple, Amazon or Netflix with smaller margins. And really, with what YouTube announced today, even distributors should be worried. Why sell through a dedicated distributor when there is an audience of 100 million video watchers at your fingertips?
  • Are Bigger Movie Studios Next? Youtube has already approached major Hollywood studios such as Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros, notes The New York Times. The BBC quotes an industry analyst saying this "certainly opens the door" for bigger studios to sign on. According to reports, content providers will be able to set rental prices with YouTube then taking a cut. Similar deals have been struck with iTunes and Netflix.
  • Good for Indie Filmmakers, says Sara Pollack, a YouTube product manager interviewed by USA Today: "The program is a response to the problems facing independent filmmakers. Too many movies are getting produced, with few places to exhibit them. For instance, she says of the 9,000 films shown at Sundance last year, only 53 found some form of distribution."
  • Lots of Unanswered Questions notes Rachel King at ZDNet: "It’s questionable how good the quality will be... and it is uncertain what kind of subscription plans they’ll have. And as someone outside the United States right now, will this rental service be available to users worldwide, or just in the U.S. and Canada, like Netflix?