YouTube Goes Offline with Downloads

YouTube said today it will allow some content partners to start offering video downloads through the site so that viewers can watch videos offline. While YouTube is saying that it’s just offering consumers another way to view video — let’s be honest, the company needs every revenue stream it can get.

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This download test is kicking off with a handful of content partners: a few universities, the White House, as well as commercial partners such as Household Hacker. Participating partners assign one of three types of licenses (Creative Commons, personal or public domain) to the content outlining what the downloader can and can’t do with the video.

The downloads are in a “high-quality” MP4 format using the H.264 video codec and are not DRM-protected. HD versions of files are not currently offered, though a YouTube spokesperson did not rule that option out.

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Each partner sets their own price for downloads with the transaction occurring through Google Checkout and YouTube taking its cut (the percentage depends on the relationship with the partner).

There are currently a number of tools that let you download video from YouTube (though they aren’t exactly kosher with YouTube terms of service). While the content available is more limited than what you could download on your own, this is the latest move in YouTube’s monetization full-court press. In the past few months the company has added added e-commerce links, sponsored videos, ads in embeds, and now direct downloads.

While smaller content partners will probably be intrigued, without DRM protection, I can’t imagine big media partners hopping on board right now. And even if smaller content creators start selling videos, will there be enough interest to generate much money? Would you pay 99 cents for a Fred video?

And while YouTube says this is just a test, the company is becoming more and more Apple-like. Though it’s nowhere near being a threat to iTunes yet, YouTube has been gathering premium content and offering videos in HD. Ironically, YouTube is offering downloads at a time when rumors are swirling that Apple will forgo downloads in favor of streaming.

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