Talk about burying the lede. In a blog post about the Sundance Film Festival, YouTube slipped in that they’re going to offer rentals of five Sundance faves as a first step into the movie rental business. YouTube’s been long-rumored to be interested in this space, but its a crowded one: iTunes has offered video rentals since 2008, Amazon has a burgeoning rental business, and Netflix remains the gold standard, although its instant-streaming model doesn’t have the latest releases (but is free if you subscribe.)
(More on Techland: Why Go To Utah: Sundance Is Streaming)
I just wrote an extended analysis about this on TIME.com, but my takeaways are this: I’m not sure exactly what YouTube brings to the table that’s new. The benefit from iTunes is the ability to take your rentals with you on-the-go, and Netflix has its partnerships with Xbox, Playstation and (coming soon) Wii. At the moment its not clear there’s even a download option for the video — is an Internet connection a requisite, and if so, do people really want to watch a 2-hour flick on YouTube.com?
To be sure, this first iteration isn’t going to be the last, and Google has some heft to throw around. They have a mature payment platform in Google Checkout, and the benefit of massive network-wide advertising to jumpstart the project. There’s also a promising platform in the works for independent filmmakers that will let them bypass the studios and rent directly via YouTube with controls over pricing and length-of-rental. Maybe YouTube will become the Web’s quirky art house rental store to iTunes’ name-brand behemoth.
(More on Techland: Apple TV Subscriptions On The Horizon?)
More will be revealed tomorrow when the rentals actually go live. But it’s part of a busy few days for the YouTube team. They rolled out video page redesigns to some users today, the most notable change being the elimination of the five-star rating system in favor of simply “Like/Dislike.” It’s a bit more minimalist of a design as well, giving more real estate to the player at the expense of options. It’s an opt-in thing for the moment but will become the default in the future.
What do you think of these changes? Would you rent via YouTube?