Google has been dabbling in streaming movie rentals for months now, but word has it that the search giant wants to plunge into the pay-per-view market head-first. Hollywood, meet YouTube.You may have already seen YouTube's somewhat limited movie rental store, which opened in January with a handful of titles from the Sundance Film Festival and has since expanded to flicks from the likes of Lionsgate ("Lord of War," "Reservoir Dogs") and ... well, some lesser-known studios. (Ever heard of "Fearless Hyena" with Jackie Chan? Not me.)
But Google's movie-rental plans for YouTube are apparently far more ambitious, with the Financial Times reporting (based on "several people with knowledge of the situation") that negotiations are underway with "leading" Hollywood studios for a wide selection of their latest and catalog movie rentals, the idea being to give iTunes and Amazon on Demand a run for their money.
Talks have been continuing for "several months" but have "taken on greater urgency in recent weeks," the Financial Times claims, with a certain amount of "excitement" on the Hollywood side as Tinseltown execs scramble for new sources of cash in the face of dwindling DVD revenue.
Google -- which has yet to confirm or deny the Financial Times piece -- is supposedly stoking the fire with promises of a "global" streaming rental store driven by its ubiquitous search engine.
The new YouTube rental store could arrive before the year is out, with rentals costing about as much as they do on iTunes and Amazon -- that is, about $5 for new releases, less for catalog titles -- says the FT article. No word on whether HD would be part of the deal, although given that YouTube already supports 1080p streaming, I don't see why not. It also sounds like Google wants to go the pay-per-view way rather than selling subscriptions, a la Netflix and Hulu.
In the background, of course, are hot-and-heavy rumors that Apple is teeing up a slimmed-down, $99 app-friendly revamp of its Apple TV "hobby," while Sony is prepping its (very real) $130 "Netbox" for market.
And then there's Google itself, which made a splash back in May with the announcement of its Google TV platform that would integrate Web browsing and Google search into your TV experience via set-top boxes and Google TV-ready HDTVs. Apps would also be a big part of the Google TV service, Google promises, with the first Google TV-ready products set to arrive in the fall.
Given the impending arrival of Google TV, it makes sense that Google would want a real on-demand movie rental store of its own that would be tightly integrated with its Google TV platform. Then again, it would be a little strange to see a truckload of for-pay video titles on the formerly free-for-all YouTube. (It's already odd to stumble upon the occasional green "rental" tag on a YouTube search result.) Odd, but inevitable, I guess.
• Financial Times: Google plans pay-per-view films (subscription required)
-- Ben Patterson is a technology writer for Yahoo! News.