This was bound to happen sooner or later. YouTube will kick
off a new service Friday, offering paid rentals of streaming films.
Five movies will be offered initially – including some that
will be shown at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The prices – and length of
time the rental period will last – will be set by the filmmakers. Each film will
be available until Jan 31.
It’s a small test now, obviously. And it’s sticking with art-house
films, but it’s still a huge step for YouTube and Google. This pilot program
will let the company get an idea of the impact this sort of thing will have on
its servers and could position the service as a viable alternative (or
competitor) to Apple’s iTunes, Netflix and Hulu.
YouTube hasn’t given any indication on when it hopes to
expand the program. It’s worth noting, though, that like Netflix, YouTube is
available on many Internet-streaming TVs and Blu-ray players. So if the company
rolls out a substantive paid streaming program, it will automatically have a
large installed base of customers in both the living room and desktop.