Everyone's Streaming For Entrance

"Box office blockbuster" has been a trusty phrase for more than a half-century, but it's going the way of bricks-and-mortar Blockbusters as a true measure of a movie's footprint. When, if and who will see boffo profits from the newest distribution venues, however, await another's morning's reviews.

The major headlines today go to Google's YouTube, which is said to be close to signing agreements with Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Pictures and Warner Brothers that will allow it to stream their movies. Sharon Waxman of The Wrap broke the story

Currently, YouTube's feature film pickings are slim, although it maintains in a statement, "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." And that's all it would say about the current "rumors and speculation."



The deals "would give the streaming service a shot in the arm as it tries to compete with Apple's iTunes, Amazon.com and Netflix," write Brooks Barnes and Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times. "YouTube has been trying several strategies to keep people on the site for longer periods as it tries to poach viewers from TV and attract ad dollars."

Forrester analyst James L. McQuivey tells the Times that Google has a unique advantage: It can provide information on how many people have searched for movies, as well as the terms they are using to find them. "That's just a marketing chain of cause and effect that nobody else asking movie studios for rights to rentals can show," he points out. "You don't necessarily need to show that a rental has been blockbuster successful to show a movie studio that it's an avenue worth pursuing."

The Wall Street Journal's Michelle Kung and Amir Efrati write that the deals are part of a larger overhaul as YouTube attempts to expand from just distributing homemade videos into "professional entertainment content and position itself for the rise of Internet-connected televisions that allow people to easily watch online video in their living rooms."

Its revenue model reportedly will be more like the movie-rental service in Apple's iTunes Store, which charges $3 to $5 for 24 hours' access to its fare. Netflix, on the other hand, lets member watch an unlimited number of movies for a flat monthly fee, but they tend to be older titles.

Sources tell the Los Angeles Times' Dawn C. Chmielewski that Paramount, 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney are holding back from cutting a deal with Google because they fear that not enough has been done enough to deter piracy of their content, but discussions are reportedly ongoing.

"The biggest challenge [YouTube faces] is a brand perception challenge," EMarketer senior analyst Paul Verna tells Chmielewski. "They are so synonymous with user-generated content.... How do you turn a ship that is so big and has so much momentum in one direction?"

Blockbuster, meanwhile, is not to be counted out -- at least as far as Netflix is concerned. It writes in its annual letter to shareholders (Shira Ovide reveals in the "Deal Journal" blog):

"Over the past 12 months, both Hulu Plus and free video on Amazon Prime have launched. We also think Dish Networks is likely to launch a substantial subscription streaming effort under the Blockbuster brand. Our competitive strategy relative to other streaming services is simply to grow as fast as we can, so we can afford more content, more marketing, and more R&D than our competitors."

Dish completed its deal to acquire Blockbuster last night. "Analysts say Dish coveted Blockbuster's video-on-demand service to complement its own sat-TV offering and is likely to market its own services in Blockbuster's remaining stores," Mark Harden reports in the Denver Business Journal.

Funny that the Netflix letter should also mention Amazon, which has been a somewhat sleepy presence in the game but probably won't remain so. Until I received an email promotion Saturday, in fact, I didn't even realize that I had "free" access to more than 5,000 streaming videos on Amazon.com by dint of my Amazon Prime membership.

Then there's Apple, whose "iTunes Cloud Could Be Free At First, But Will Eventually Require A Fee," as the head atop Sam Oliver's AppleInsiderpiece reads. "The long-rumored iTunes cloud will allow users to stream their music and media to Internet-connected devices, negating the need for content to be stored locally on a connected device like an iPhone or iPad," he writes.

While Oliver's story focuses on Apple's dealings with the music industry, who amongst us thinks that Steve Jobs and the gang in Cupertino isn't also looking to cut deals for movies, TV shows and "media yet-to-be-invented," as all of the contracts I've seen recently put it. I imagine that someone researching old media some day may be reading this quaint piece as a 3D hologram beamed directly to her temporal cortex. And I don't expect I'll get a mill in royalties.

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