YouTube’s Big Hollywood Push Goes Live

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Starting today, YouTube is adding thousands of Hollywood-produced movies for rent, hoping to make the site more than just a place for Keyboard Cat and Chocolate Rain.

YouTube rentals aren’t a new concept. The Google-owned site has played around with movie rentals since last year, when it allowed users to pay for movies that were airing at the Sundance Film Festival. And Hollywood content isn’t a stranger to YouTube either; you can already watch ad-supported films such as Supersize Me and Ghostbusters through the site’s movie section.

But the latest premium movie push, which rolls out over the next few weeks, is YouTube’s biggest yet. Three major studios — Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. — are on board according to the New York Times. The 3,000 movies range from classics such as Goodfellas and Caddyshack to new releases such as Inception and The King’s Speech. Each movie will include reviews and behind-the-scenes extras. Prices start at $2.99 for older titles and $3.99 for new releases, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Hollywood content hasn’t been a big draw for YouTube since the early years, when the site earned a reputation for bootleg uploads of copyrighted movies and TV shows. Since then, YouTube has become better-known for user-made videos, while experiments with premium videos have been less successful. A couple years ago, for instance, there was a big to-do about YouTube getting premium TV shows and redesigning its home page around them, but while the content is still available, it’s no longer emphasized as a big part of the site. It’s been hard for YouTube to package this content in a way that gels with the site’s user-made material.

That may be why the site is hedging its bets with semi-premium content, produced outside the big studios. In a blog post, YouTube head Salar Kamangar outlined what he called “the future of video,” describing a combination of Hollywood content, user-made videos and smaller low-budget brands that are building their own audiences through the Web. The site is rumored to beĀ spending up to $100 million to commission low-cost, web-exclusive content. These videos, from sources like Machinima and Annoying Orange, fit more naturally with YouTube’s user-made vibe.

That’s not to say YouTube’s Hollywood content won’t be worthwhile, but that depends on execution. Another YouTube blog post says you’ll be able to watch the movies “on any computer,” which makes me think the videos are barred from smartphones and set-top boxes. Without those viewing options, I can’t really see why you’d opt for YouTube over a more established streaming video service like Amazon or Vudu. Links to other users’ remixes and parodies isn’t going to cut it.