YouTube Expands Video Rental Program

Last month, YouTube rolled out a new rental service that allowed users to rent independent films from the Sundance film festival. But now, despite weak demand for those films, YouTube has quietly expanded the video rental program with a number of niche content providers.

YouTube’s rental offering started with five independent movies that had been featured at Sundance over the last two years. Those movies, which include the 2009 Sundance Audience Winner The Cove, cost $3.99 each for a 48-hour viewing window. But neither YouTube nor the independent filmmakers involved made a lot of money from the offering. According to the NY Times, those films received a combined 2,684 views by the time the promotion ended, netting YouTube just $10,709.16 in rentals.

While YouTube hasn’t publicized the expansion of its rental program (and has not returned calls for comment), a quick search for participating content providers reveals a number of video publishers in niche verticals that have signed up to take part in it. The rental program, which is currently in beta, has content from a number of anime, fitness and travel video distributors, among others. The price of the rentals and the length of the viewing windows appears to differ by publisher, suggesting that they’re the ones who set the price and length of time during which viewers can watch those videos.

Publishers that have videos for rent include: Anime Network, Bay View Fitness, Cerebellum Corp, FineCooking,, FitnessChannel, FUNimation Entertainment,, Language Tree, Questar Entertainment,
Terwilliger Productions, and UFOTV Studios.

Despite the growing number of content providers that have begun renting videos through the program, it’s still in its infancy. FUNimation Entertainment, one of the companies participating, has made about 100 videos available through the rental program over the first month, according to Mario Rodriguez, brand manager for the anime video distribution company. But he expects that number to expand as YouTube throws more weight behind video rentals. “We’re fully invested in it,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. “We will grow it as it grows.”

It will be interesting to see how the rental program fares as YouTube targets specific verticals with built-in viewership. As opposed to the more general audience for independent films, anime video distributors like FUNimation and Anime Network have pretty rabid fans. But whether those fans will be willing to pay for anime shows on YouTube, for a limited window of time, is still unclear.

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