Does No One Remember That Google Tried And Failed To 'Rent' Videos Online In The Past?

from the short-memory-syndrome dept

The tech press is excitedly discussing the fact that YouTube is looking to work with movie studios to allow movie rentals, with many talking up how this is a way for Google to put in place a new business model for YouTube. But here’s the thing: everyone seems to forget that, back when Google first launched Google Video (which was a competitor to YouTube before Google bought YouTube and merged the two), it was based on this very idea. You could “buy” videos on the site to watch. And what happened? It failed pretty miserably. People just weren’t interested. Instead, they flocked to YouTube to get all that free content and community, and Google quietly changed around Google Videos’ entire business model and concept, and then eventually realized that it couldn’t compete, and so it bought YouTube.

So why would people suddenly be willing to pay when something that sounds nearly identical a few years ago failed to get much interest at all? Perhaps culture or technology has changed (it’s easier to watch downloaded movies on a TV screen, certainly). But, I have to admit to being rather skeptical of this as a big business opportunity. We’ve already seen this movie, and it didn’t end well.

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Companies: google, youtube

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Comments on “Does No One Remember That Google Tried And Failed To 'Rent' Videos Online In The Past?”

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Richard says:

For nearly 20 years I have seen a constant stream of wishful predictions theat “movies on demand” was going to be the BIG moneyspinner for cable companies, phone companies etc etc.

What people forget is that in the late 60’s the film industry was dead on its feet – allegedly killed by TV. The big films of the day were things like easy rider, midnight cowboy – cult films really and certainly not mass market family entertainment.

The industry was rescued by a number of things – the re-invention of the blockbuster with high production values – shown mainly in the largest cinemas (small local screens were closing down anyway) – the acceptance that you could let recent films be shown on TV (during my childhood in the 60s – and even into the early 70s in the UK you never saw a film under 20 years old on TV and Disney only allowed “taster” programs of its cartoon to be shown – and then only at the school holidays) and yes the VCR also played a part.

Of course the movie industry thought it was the blockbusters that did it and carried on with the essence of the old mentality intact.

To my mind the blockbusters are now looking rather tired – maybe that strand has become played out. Perhaps the hollywood film industry should fold – for artistic reasons not just tech/finance ones. Things have a natural lifespan. No one much builds Great Cathedrals anymore – mostly we have enough already. No -one writes classical symphonies these days – the canon is regarded as complete – most new work would tend to look derivative.

Why should I bother to use my computer to rent movies – there are plenty of ways to get them already and frankly I’ve had enough of them by and large.

Why should new media just be seen as a way to sell an old product. New wine for new wineskins!

Richard says:

Re: Re: Re:

Firstly why do you need to be rude? (people usually resort to such tactics when their opponent has a real point that they don’t quite know how to answer properly) however you go on to make a more reasonable response to which my reply is:

The point when an artform reaches its “sell by date” is often accompanied by some really good examples (eg King’s College Chapel, Elgar’s Cello concerto) and it can be difficult for those immersed in the time to tell what is going on.
Also I’m not familiar with the films that you mention – which probably means that their audience is, at least to some extent, specialised. Therefore they probably don’t fit quite into the “blockbuster” category that I was talking about. I’m sure that in the late 60’s there would have been a version of you who would have railed against the idea (then prevalent) that cinema was on its way out and would have produced a list of films to prove it.

In the same way as there were still buildings being built (even churches) after 1550 and music being written (even “classical” music ) after the first world war I’m sure that there will still be films being made – its just that they won’t be constructed on the old pattern. So they might not be so grand, so well funded and such a pivotal part of culture as they were in the past.

The real point is that the new technology can do so much more than just provide a long sstream of audio visuals for passive consumption – so why limit it to that?

Sheinen says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Apologies if that came across as rude, the moniker ‘buddy’ was intended to signify the jovial nature of the initial response. Awkward toneless text does it again!

Granted, District 9 is more of a cult film given it’s virgin director and small global release, but avatar has been James Camerons $200million baby for the last 4 years. It’s spanking new 3D visuals and relentless special effects more than suit the blockbuster catagory.

Iron Man 2 is due for release next year so marketing is currently very small, but it’s guaranteed popcorn fodder.

Smaller, lower budget films are often far better, I agree – however, the general public doesn’t, as it’s these mindless, money fuelled monsters that make the most money.

Point in case: Titanic

Sheinen says:

What is it you actually want Mike?

I would have said that more readily available, affordable methods of streaming media would be a good thing? OK, it’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

It didn’t work in the past, when the average internet speed didn’t really allow for streaming of 2 hours worth of high quality video and audio, but more people are getting fatter bandwidth and more people are hooking media pc’s to their tv’s.

Youtube never had the capability of offering this service before and google video didn’t have the popularity. I think there’s a good bet that this could work.

paul (profile) says:


Streaming of movies is already a reality. Netflix has it, On demand cable has it, You Tube is trying to get a piece of it. Several years ago NO ONE had the bandwidth. NOW everyone has at least 1.5MBps, even phones are almost ready for movie streaming content. Hollywood is changing it’s tune. Avatar and others coming are going faster and faster to DVD. Many are now released direct to DVD. (E.G. Disney)

This is the future and the future is now. The movie industry is changing. and very alive (how many hundreds of millions from the last Potter film alone?)

You Tube will do it… just wait (and it won’t be long)

TheJadedTech (profile) says:

What will happen will be that because these companies can’t make money from selling their schlock, they’ll simply force the ISP’s into some sort of levy charge which will trickle down to a money fee added to your bill. When you really think about it, that will probably be the best method and will probably make them more money in the long run (continuous streams of income is better than a random flux of cash).

Wait for it….

Cheese McBeese says:

Sure to fail...

YouTube is the place people go when they want to share amateur video content. It’s a different experience than people are looking for when they want commercially produced entertainment video.

YouTube is making the classic mistake of trying to branch into something that they aren’t the leader in (nor is the parent) before they even figure out their current business model. That will dilute the brand and open the door a little wider for competitors in the amateur video segment.

I continue to shake my head at Google’s “let’s throw stuff on the wall and see what sticks” approach to strategy. Speaking of amateur…

periphera says:

It gets the movies there

In the time since Google Video launched, I do think that the prevailing attitudes about watching video on a computer have shifted a good bit, but I don’t think that’s what this is about.

To me, the big thing is that this is a deal that gets google and the movie companies working together, in a complimentary fashion. If I were google, I’d be willing to take a decent loss on this, just to set the tone for future negotiations, just to show that I’m willing to try it the movie industry’s way.

After this doesn’t make money (at least for certain movies), then google can suggest *crazy* ideas like taking a movie that no one has bought in the last 3 months and putting it on YouTube for free. Maybe, just maybe, it would drive traffic to your other movies?

hegemon13 says:

The pricing is outrageous

$4.00 per movie! For a stream. For a YouTube quality stream. Are you freakin’ kidding me? No one is going to buy into this any more than any of the other ripoff streaming rental services that have tried this same thing. Google thinks that YouTube’s name recognition will make it different this time, but it won’t. No one is going to pay $4.00 to watch a crappy-quality flash stream on their computer monitor when they can rent a full-quality DVD to watch on their home theater for much less via Redbox, Netflix, or for the same price from Blockbuster. This just does not make sense.

YouTube is talking about how to get “out of the office and into the living room,” but at $4.00 per movie, they have already doomed themselves. Sure, they could incorporate YouTube into set-top devices, but why would a consumer bother? Their pricing is so high and their quality so mediocre that there is no incentive for the consumer to jump through hoops to make it work. There are already better, more convenient, more consumer-friendly services at a better price (hulu, Netflix streaming, cable PPV). Google’s “innovation” has been very disappointing of late.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: The pricing is outrageous

$.99 across the board. No reason to upcharge for hi-def when you are streaming to a computer, whose monitors are ALL capable of at least 720p. That’s doubly true with YouTube, whose “HD” streams are ugly, pixelated messes.

If I sound angry, it’s because I hoped at first that YouTube might actually bring a unique offering to the table, something like Netflix streaming without the DVD plan — a flat-rate subscription with unlimited viewing for an affordable price. Instead, they’ve brought another CinemaNow, but with worse quality. Great job, YouTube, you’re only six years behind the curve.

Jason (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The pricing is outrageous

YouTube’s HD streams are ugly because they’re streaming amateur video footage for free. A little actual cash flow comes in, and the original file is actually hi-def without lossy conversions, and your output will be just fine.

Don’t think of it as upcharging for hi-def. Think of it as your hi-def regular product coming down the pipe at half the competitor’s rate and then offering to half it again to let some college kids who don’t mind a grainy picture to still afford beer and pizza.

IshmaelDS (profile) says:


I think you said it in your post Mike. YouTube has a community, Google Video didn’t. I don’t know if their price point is good, or their quality, but if they get both of those at the right place I think this has a good chance as long as they leave the community aspects of it open. Leave the commenting, the rating etc. otherwise as hegemon13 said, why not just go “rent” from Netflix or Blockbuster?

Nicholas Overstreet (profile) says:

Unless YouTube does something about it’s absolutely horrible quality, they’ll get no where with this.
Not only are their “HD” or “HQ” videos absolute jokes in terms of quality, but their videos constantly cut out and have to re-buffer due to their bandwidth issues.
If I can’t watch a 40 second youtube clip with out being annoyed, I seriously doubt I would ever make it through a 2 hour movie from them.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

YouTube to the Media Center

I’m not going to write this off so quickly. I’ve seen dozens of startups fail at a great idea, go broke, only to have some other company succeed with the idea three years later.

– better execution
– better market timing
– technological progress
– market shifts

The three skills a VC needs to have to pick a winner are: timing, timing, timing. This is no different, maybe the timing is just better now.

For example, at CES this year, I saw a heckuvallot of TVs with YouTube access built right in. A lot of set-top boxes, too. My Tivo has YouTube built into the OSD. Isn’t that enough to create a very different market scenario than what Google Video tried years ago?

varagix says:

The pricing is outrageous

YouTube’s HD streams are ugly because they’re streaming amateur video footage for free.

Pretty much this. If you watch one of the hands full of official free offerings of professional content on youtube (anime for example; shows like Ghost in the Shell SAC have been uploaded by the rights holders), their HD streams of those things are really good. Because there’s actual HD video in those HD video streams. Professional youtubers like some of the GameStation guys and girls also put up actual high def video as well.

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