Would you pay for YouTube?

So you're sitting at home on a stormy evening, there's nothing to watch on TV and your DVD/Blu-ray collection isn't calling to you. What are your options?

These days, you've got plenty. There's Netflix's Watch Now for Netflix subscribers. There's Apple TV and/or iTunes. Amazon Video-on-Demand. The Xbox 360 and Sony PS3 game consoles both offer a video store. There's Hulu. There's Veoh. There's Crackle. There's Joost. Most of the major networks offer their own streaming replay of popular shows. In short, if you have a computer or modern gaming console (with the exception of the Wii, though its browser just got an upgrade and might now play videos from your favorite website) and your internet connection is live, you have access to some kind of full-length TV and movie content source. In fact, the field seems pretty crowded. (I'm sure my list isn't comprehensive, those are all off the top of my head.)

And now apparently there'll be YouTube. A Wall Street Journal article suggests that YouTube is going to get into the movie renting business. We all know YouTube and I'm sure we've all watched clips from it, either on the site or embedded on another site. I've embedded plenty of YouTube clips in this blog. Most of us love YouTube; why wouldn't we? Free, bite-sized video content to break up the day, what isn't to like about that?

But will we all open our wallets for YouTube? Will that 'check out this video of my kid in her school play' popularity translate to an audience that is willing to pay a few bucks to rent a movie and watch it on a YouTube branded site?

A lot probably depends on marketing. YouTube is free. That's just a fact burned into most of our minds. So if we see that black and red YouTube logo with a dollar sign dangling off it, I think most of us are going to balk. A new, related brand might do better.

A lot also depends on delivery. Sitting at your computer watching a 3-4 minute clip is one thing, but sitting there to watch a 2 hour movie, particularly with friends or family, is quite another. So YouTube would need to get their movie rental service streaming to set-top boxes: Tivo, Roku, game consoles, internet-ready televisions and the like. Getting the content onto a big-screen TV also distances the experience from that freebie YouTube clip vibe.

Last factor: is YouTube a brand that inspires trust? Will we feel comfortable handing them our credit card numbers? When I buy content from Amazon Video-on-Demand or iTunes, I'm dealing with a company that I have a history with. Of course, YouTube is owned by Google, a company many consumers do trust, but how many consumers are really aware of that fact (I hasten to add that if you're reading this blog, you're probably much more tuned into tech than a typical consumer).

It'll be interesting to watch this all play out. If the rumors are true, YouTube will be offering $4 video rentals of movies on the same day the DVDs hit store shelves. That seems to be the going rate these days. But once the rain lets up, we might just head back to the $1 RedBox kiosk at the local supermarket.

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