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YouTube revs up film plans

Vid site offers studios additional distrib platform

YouTube’s quest to become a major revenue generator for Google is sending it to Hollywood, giving studios yet another digital platform through which they can release their films.

After relying on mostly library fare, YouTube has enticed Warner Bros., Sony, Universal, Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co., to provide newer pics the online video sourcecan rent the same day they become available on DVD and Blu-ray.

That VOD window has also proved popular through cablers and the Movies on Demand service, as well as Apple’s iTunes, Amazon.com, Hulu Plus, Walmart’s Vudu, Best Buy’s CinemaNow and Sears’ Alphaline, among others. Studios have also started experimenting more with films on Facebook.

YouTube has been renting films since last year, but its offerings have been limited to older pics (“The Da Vinci Code,” “Scary Movie 4,” “Death Proof,” “3:10 to Yuma”) that haven’t generated much interest so far online — and increasingly less on DVD and Blu-ray.

Titles have been available for between $2 and $4 per pic, with studios earning a large portion of each rental.

Though owned by a company with deep pockets, YouTube has held off on ponying up the kind of big bucks Netflix has spent to lock down streaming rights to films, although it recently expressed interest in spending $100 million for original programming. It also hasn’t spent much to promote the availability of films.

Still, studio deals with YouTube were a given considering its massive audience of 130 million visitors each month in the U.S.

At the same time, few studios are showing signs of wanting to side with just one digital distrib, believing that releasing a film through multiple online rental firms is more lucrative in the long run.

But Hollywood hasn’t been willing to hand over its pics until it knows titles will be safe from piracy.

How YouTube will start promoting the newer titles is unclear.

“We’ve steadily been adding more and more titles since launching movies for rent on YouTube over a year ago and now have thousands of titles available,” a YouTube spokesman said in a statement. “Outside of that, we don’t comment on rumor or speculation.”

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