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YouTube On The Verge Of A Big Movie Upgrade?

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There’s nothing new about streaming movies on YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG). I have numerous legit choices right now. Nothing new either about YouTube or Google charging for video content. What would be new? Getting a large amount of premium content, charging for it and making serious money.

According to The Wrap, YouTube may be about to do just that — add a batch of premium studio partners including Warner Bros. (NYSE: TWX), Sony (NYSE: SNE) Pictures and Universal for a full-force movie rental push. I’ve confirmed the pending program with one indie partner, who compared it to the Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) iTunes store. Unlike current ad-supported efforts mostly for smaller films or library, this would give YouTube access to films in the same window as DVDs, the same day and date available on iTunes.

The Wrap says the launch is imminent. YouTube is flipping back with a variation on the theme it’s been sounding for for roughly two years: “We’ve steadily been adding more and more titles since launching movies for rent on YouTube over a year ago and now have thousands of titles available. Outside of that, we don’t comment on rumor, or speculation.”

YouTube started rentals in early 2010 with films from Sundance that barely registered. By April, it had more than 500 partners and “hundreds” of films for rent from $0.99-$3.99/ A year later it’s up to “thousands” but the titles are still mostly indies and quasi-recent films — and there’s no sign that YouTube has anything but a very marginal business. Yet.

To change that and to compete with iTunes, YouTube needs the same inventory or at least the same window. It also needs something else: to sell more people on the notion that YouTube is the best place to watch movies — especially paid movies. It wouldn’t hurt if YouTube managed something Apple has yet to do: start a subscription service (preferably) priced lower than Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) or Hulu Plus to complement the pay-per-view option.