Site aims to expand revenues via ads, rentals

YouTube began adding some 3,000 films from major studios for rental in the U.S. on Monday, doubling its catalog in a bid to keep up in the rapidly escalating arms race among online video providers.

Move reps an expansion of the site’s first foray into the online film rental biz early last year, when it started a test with independent films, some of which played the Sundance Film Festival.

Warner Bros., Universal and Sony have all made deals with the Google-owned site in hopes of tapping its massive, youth-skewing user base. YouTube now has more than 6,000 titles available to stream as rentals, including pics available the same day they become available on DVD and Blu-ray plus additional library fare.

Among the titles to be made available: “Inception,” “The King’s Speech,” “Little Fockers,” “The Green Hornet,” “Despicable Me,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Elf,” “Hairspray” and “Taxi Driver.”

When it comes to studio fare, YouTube’s offerings were previously limited to older pics (“Scary Movie 4,” “Death Proof,” “3:10 to Yuma”) from Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co. that haven’t generated much interest so far online.

Most new releases start at $3.99, while older titles rent for $2.99. Viewers have 30 days to begin watching their rental and 24 hours to finish them once started. The film rentals will be accompanied by reviews and behind-the-scenes movie extras.

Titles will also be available through Google TV.

Company is adding more pics as consumers are increasingly watching films and TV shows across a variety of devices. It also comes as YouTube is generating 2 billion video views a day but the typical consumer is spending only 15 minutes a day on the site.

YouTube has been trying to figure out a way to convince visitors to spend more time on the site so that the company can generate more revenue from advertising. Revenue can also come from film rentals.

While the haul represents a huge infusion of premium product on a site best known for amateur video, YouTube still finds itself far behind digital leaders like Apple’s iTunes and Microsoft’s XBox that have built up robust catalogs over the past few years.

But the deal is still a coup for YouTube, which has struggled since its inception to strike content deals with Hollywood. The absence of other leading studios like Fox, Disney and Paramount reportedly stems from their dissatisfaction with Google’s efforts to remove pirated materials from its search results.

Piping in premium programming is but one piece of a broader strategy to revamp YouTube into a source of high-quality fare.

Site already offers up video fare from more than 20,000 partners who are being further developed through educational programs like the YouTube Creators Institute. And the company is investing as much as $100 million to lure top-drawer talent for original programming, an initiative that is being overseen by former execs from Paramount and Netflix.

YouTube head Salar Kamangar hinted as much in a blog post announcing the film influx.

“We’re providing even more resources to creators who you’ll know from TV or Hollywood,” he wrote.

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