If your current idea of online video is slickster Hulu, prepare to be whelmed during your first visits to YouTube’s new showcases for movies and full-episode TV. It’s a starter house and not fully furnished, at that. But it’s the kind of structure the Google (NSDQ: GOOG) video unit needs to prove it can build in order to move up to newer full-episode programming, higher-end movies and the kind of advertiser it needs to succeed. (And if you saw Hulu in alpha and public beta, you know how far it’s come in just over a year.)
Don’t get me wrong — there’s plenty to watch now if you enjoy reruns of Bonanza, never finished watching Party of Five and are a sucker for The Little Princess. (I’m still trying to get over being able to watch the original Carrie at a moment’s notice.) I’ll skip Married With Children, though NewsRadio could be a lure. I can’t quite figure out why Bewitched seasons 1 and 3 are available, but not season 2. On the newish side, you can also see the CBS (NYSE: CBS) series Harper’s Island, clips from ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and a lot of good documentaries. But I don’t have to go to YouTube to see most of this — and YouTube execs say they don’t expect exclusivity.
On the user level, this is about keeping my attention if I’m already on YouTube or I’m a frequent YouTube visitor, providing the kind of content that will keep me from straying to Hulu, TV.com or one of the other sites with a concentration of licensed entertainment programming.
Unlike Hulu, which was engineered from scratch by Jason Kilar and his team, and could debut with a clean slate and a plethora of primetime programming from JV owners News Corp (NYSE: NWS). and NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) and other content partners, YouTube has to manage this feat in a well-populated area without a ton of zoning. When I look up Little Princess on Hulu or through YouTube’s new Movies list, I go to the 1939 version featuring Shirley Temple, the one each has the right to play. But if I type “little princess” into the YouTube search engine, I can get right to the 17-part user upload of the PBS Wonderworks version or an 11-part upload of the 1995 film or the user upload of the version now being shown in the premium area. It’s the kind of disconnect that makes content owners crazy and one of the things YouTube has to overcome.
At the same time, embedding has been disabled on most of the YouTube premium content. I can embed Hulu’s version of the Shirley Temple classic or the user versions on YouTube but not the official YouTube version. YouTube is well ahead of Hulu in terms of unique users and community, but Hulu’s player, for now, is more sophisticated. YouTube’s willingness to use content partners’ players may wind up as a plus for users.
We’ll be watching.