YouTube Quietly Begins Renting Movies, Warming Up for Fight Against Apple, Netflix, Hulu et al.

This one slipped under the radar a bit, but it’s pretty huge news: YouTube just put up its first five movies for paid rental, with more to come. Is Google entering the movie rental business now?

YouTube movies

Google knows it needs to compete with Apple, Amazon, and Netflix on content. That’s why they’re digitizing libraries. But considering Google also owns the world’s largest streaming video site, they’ve stayed remarkably quiet while Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Hulu have begun to figure out how to make boatloads of money off video content. Google’s plans with this aren’t clear at all, but they’re definitely dipping a toe into the water of media content. And, going by this photo (taken by our own Tyler Gray on the streets of New York City), their promotion may consist entirely of one popcorn cart and a few T-shirts.


Back in January, YouTube began offering five movies for rent as part of a partnership with the Sundance Film Festival. The five movies–The Cove, Bass Ackwards, One Too Many Mornings, Homewrecker, and Children of Invention–are selections from the 2009 and 2010 Sundance lineup. But they’ve now expanded that to a larger selection of mostly indie and foreign fare, including many recognizable titles (Precious, Reservoir Dogs, Rodger Dodger, Kicking and Screaming (Baumbach, not Ferrell), and many more). There are also a few TV shows, but nothing particularly interesting (mostly educational stuff and 32 episodes of something called “Bikini Travels”).

The prices of rentals vary between $1 and $4, with few exceptions, and are available for 48 hours after purchase. Some movies are only available for a limited period of time–The Cove, for example, is only available through May 8th. You pay through Google Checkout, which is pretty convenient, and since it’s YouTube, you can view the movies on pretty much any device. Of course, there are also a boatload of easy, one-click ripping tools for YouTube (including extensions for Firefox and Chrome), which might explain the hesitance of the major studios–there are no Big Four movies available.

So what is Google’s aim here? They have the capabilities to compete with Hulu and Netflix–Apple and Amazon are in the downloaded rental business, which is a little different–but they’ll have to get major movie studios on board before YouTube rentals become preferable to either. Some legit TV shows wouldn’t hurt, either–they can put as many ads in as they want, I’ll still watch Parks and Recreation on my smartphone if they can get it.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one–you’ll have to do the legwork yourself).

About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law.