YouTube will start streaming ad-supported feature films from “at least one of the biggest Hollywood movie studios,” according to a report from CNET this morning. The videos could hit the site in the next 1-3 months.
The CNET story falls in line with the vibe we’ve been getting from YouTube, where they’re casting their recent win of full-length CBS TV episodes as the first of many premium content deals in the pipe. YouTube’s official line to CNET’s Greg Sandoval was that it’s “in negotiations with a variety of entertainment companies.”
Though YouTube’s video quality is still bottom of the barrel, it’s hard for any content producer to pass up its gigantic audience. A big push for premium content would bring the site into closer competition with the studio-spawned Hulu.
But will premium video play on YouTube? Alongside the CBS episodes, YouTube rolled out pre-roll and mid-roll ads for the first time. That’s a drastically different user experience from YouTube’s long-established norm of a sub-10 minute video that occasionally displays a single overlay. It’s hard to say whether the new strategy has worked; CBS’ initial run of full-length TV episodes have only garnered tens of thousands of views each. Notably, however, they are buried on a channel that’s added nearly a hundred videos in the last day alone. You have to click through on the “playlists” tab to even find them. Both CBS and YouTube need to do better than that.
Studios have been skeptical that advertising would generate enough revenue to justify giving away movies for free. For instance, a Warner Bros. exec said this March that Hulu made sense for TV shows — especially with its promotional value of pushing people to watch further episodes on actual TV, or to buy DVDs — but not for movies. However, he qualified that by saying ad-supported movies would only work if the audience was big enough.
Lionsgate made a splash by recently starting a YouTube channel, but it only has clips and trailers for now. Meanwhile YouTube started a “Screening Room” section of its site for short films, where it recently posted a full-length feature from The Joy Luck Club director Wayne Wang. It also just improved the section to play widescreen videos in “Theater View.” There’s no reason that section couldn’t host more mainstream fare.