Youtube starts movie rentals, paid content as Google takes on Netflix

In a surprisingly low-key launch, Google has introduced movie rentals and paid downloads in India on its Youtube website a few hours ago.

Google had started tying up with studios in India (and abroad) more than a year ago, but so far, all the offerings on Youtube’s movies section had been free to watch.

As a result, the selection of movies on Youtube left much to be desired, especially in the Hollywood category. Most movies were also-rans, or very old.

However, there were exceptions too, especially in the Indian movies section – like ‘Dirty Picture’ and ‘Odipolaama’ (Tamil). Still, most of the movies were either old or boring.

With paid movies on Youtube, viewers can now watch relatively new flicks, though the rates are quite expensive by Indian standards.

Among the early ones to be available in the ‘buy or rent’ paid movies section are Ishaqzaade, Ladies vs Ricky Bahl, Dostana, New York, Band Baaja Baaraat, Madagascar 3, ted and Bourne Legacy.

While the Indian studios have priced their movies at reasonable rates, ranging mostly in the Rs 50-75 range, the foreign films have been priced at Rs 120 to Rs 490 range.

For example, ted, the comedy about a teddy bear that comes to life and follows its owner through his life, is priced at Rs 126, while Madagascar 3 will set you back by Rs 490 ($9.25). If you want to buy the ‘Bourne Legacy’ and keep it forever, the charge is Rs 650, while it is only Rs 490 to ‘rent’ it.

The high rates may be primarily because of the global nature of the Internet. For example, if Google slashes the price of Hollywood movies for users who claim to be based in India, many overseas customers may end up creating dummy accounts simply to have access to movies on the cheap.

The difference between renting and ‘buying’ is that in the former, you can watch the movie any number of times within a specific time period (usually a week, but can vary), while in the latter, you can save the movie to your online Google account and watch it on Youtube any number of times as long as the content is available on the service – at least 5 years.

Google Ireland, which is the legal entity that is providing the paid content service, calls it your ‘digital locker’.

Besides watching the content on Youtube, you can also watch your stuff offline “from a previously authorized device.” It is not clear what this is, but a good guess would be a an Google Play-enabled Android device such as a smartphone or tablet.

The Locker service allows users to authorize up to 5 devices for offline playback at a time and just to make sure that you don’t start a sub-renting service using Google Play, Google also restricts the number of devices that can be newly authorized to store offline content from your account to 2 every 90 days. In addition, a device which is de-authorized once can only be authorized again only once more in 12 months.

Users can view only one stream of each item of Locker Pay Content at a time, but can view up to 3 streams at a time. In other words, you can use your paid content account on three different devices at the same time, but will have to watch three different movies or content on each of them while doing so.

Google also prohibits the exhibition of the movies and other content for commercial purposes like distributing it on cable TV etc, and sharing of Youtube passwords with others.

Payment for the paid content on Youtube can be made using credit cards. The movies require an Internet connection speed of at least 1.5 to 2 Mbps for decent viewing, while HD content would require 8 Mbps or more.