A deal was announced today that Walt Disney Pictures will start allowing hundreds of their films to be rented on YouTube, the Google-owned video hosting site that has also been pushing itself as a place to rent mainstream video titles since May of this year. Disney’s deal makes it the fourth big studio, joining Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros., to allow easy access to their movies not just on the YouTube.com site, but also on Android powered devices and on Google TV.
Some Disney titles have already started hitting the site, with older movies like Alice in Wonderland available for a $1.99 rental, and newer titles like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides available for $4.99. In addition to pushing movie rentals on their site, YouTube has also been active in developing branded channels where big time media companies can distribute video for free. This new Disney rentals deal was proceeded earlier this month by an announcement that the two companies were launching a co-branded YouTube channel for Disney’s original series. According to Reuters, this new channel will include, “video drawn from relevant family-friendly content currently available across YouTube, original video produced by Disney, as well as a blend of current Disney Interactive original series, select Disney Channel programming and Disney user created content.”
These are interesting times we’re living in, where all of the big media companies are throwing things at the wall as far as digital distribution goes and seeing what will stick. Every one of these new deals, these new means of distribution, are a toe dipped in the water to see how the future of content distribution will look. I think these new deals between YouTube and Disney could be a strong model. You give away lesser content for free in a branded channel, and then you hope that the free content leads the consumer to your premium content, which you charge for rentals of. This is sure to be more profitable for the studios than collecting small royalties from unlimited streaming services like Netflix, and I think that more and more media companies will be limiting the streaming rights that they sign away to companies like Netflix and Hulu and more and more looking into ways to push models where the consumer pays for individual rentals and purchases of their product like in this YouTube deal and through Apple’s iTunes. It will just be a slow process of breaking people from the habit of thinking they can get access to everything they want for one small fee, a model that was nice for a while back when streaming video was a niche market, but that doesn’t seem to have the legs to survive into the future.
Whichever way it works out, it will be interesting to watch over the next few years which model of distribution survives, and which company leverages itself to be our main provider of digital media content. The survival of the movie business pretty much depends on what comes next. [TechCrunch]