YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG) is taking its almost obscure movie rental service to Canada, launching today with 1,000 or so films from Hollywood and the 49th parallel. If you think I’m exaggerating about the low-profile rental offering, even the announcement includes a light-hearted reminder that YouTube has a U.S. rental service.
Users can rent a mix of newer releases like The Adjustment Bureau or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and what YouTube calls “Canuck classics” exclusive to Canada.
It’s a salvo of sorts at Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX), which moved into Canada last year for its first international expansion. But the offerings are very different: Netflix is a subscription movie and TV service with a monthly fee while YouTube is aimed at entertainment tourists who want a movie here and there but not a commitment.
Some movies are free or available for $1.99, but generally library titles are $3.99 and new releases are $5.99. As has become customary, rentals are good for 30 days but users only have 24-48 hours (depending on the release) for viewing once they start to watch. Anyone who watches more than a couple of movies a month likely will be better off with a Netflix subscription for $8 a month.
YouTube is the undisputed king of online video but Google has had a hard time unlocking the paid content potential with it or the earlier effort at Google Video, a failure that led to it’s acquisition by frustrated Google. Now it looks like Google might be interested in trying the same thing with Hulu, the online video portal being shopped by owners Disney (NYSE: DIS), News Corp. (NSDQ: NWS), Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) (http://www.youtube.ca/movies: CMCSA) and Providence Equity Partners. For something in the neighborhood of $2 billion, Google could pick up a service that’s been successful at providing a legit place to watch primetime TV. Hulu also has managed to launch Hulu Plus, with more than 100,000 subscribers paying $8 a month for movies and deeper, more prompt access to current-season primetime TV shows. One sticking point now foe would-be Hulu buyers: the length of time that content would be available and whether they could make simlar or better deals.
I’m checking on some aspects and will update with answers.