YouTube ramps up movie rental service

YouTube is dramatically expanding its movie rental service with the addition of 3,000 titles from major Hollywood studios, positioning the online video service to capitalise on the growing number of Internet-connected televisions and portable devices.

YouTube head Salar Kamangar revealed the initiative in a blog post, telling users that they would be able to watch “full-length blockbuster films,” read reviews and catch behind-the-scenes videos on the site. Three studios — Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures — as well as independents, including Lionsgate Films, will offer their movies on YouTube the same day they are available on other on-demand services. Prices for new releases start at $3.99.

Among the newly-released titles available for rent on YouTube are The Green Hornet, Academy Award-nominated fantasy sci-fi film Inception and last year’s best picture Oscar winner The King’s Speech. Older movies, such as Caddyshack, Goodfellas and Taxi Driver, are priced from $2.99.

“Six years ago, there were just two types of video: video you watched on your TV and video you watched on your laptop,” Kamangar wrote. “Today, there’s increasingly just video, and it’s available everywhere: on a phone, a tablet, a laptop or a television screen.”

YouTube began making movies from the Sundance Film Festival available for online rental in early 2010 and offers a limited selection of titles to rent, including titles such as Scary Movie 4 and Saw IV.

Noting figures that suggest users are spending just 15 minutes a day on YouTube, and spending five hours a day watching TV, Kamangar suggests that “as the lines between online and offline continue to blur, we think that’s going to change.”

Not all Hollywood studios have joined YouTube’s expanded rental offering. Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney Studios were reluctant to sign on because of concerns that Google had not done enough to combat online piracy, according to people familiar with the matter. In December 2010, YouTube owner Google acquired Widevine, a global provider of video optimisation and multiplatform content protection. In a blog post announcing the deal, Google noted that by forging partnerships across the entire ecosystem, Widevine had made on demand services more efficient and secure for media companies, and ultimately more available and convenient for users.

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