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The growing-rockier relationship between Google and Apple might just
have taken another good hard swat. With news that YouTube is seeking to
offer the kind of subscription-based TV programming that iTunes offers,
things could potentially heat up.
Actually, YouTube's service is positioned not just as competition to iTunes, but to Amazon as well as a nascent subscription service Hulu is considering. In fact, all the major players in digital content are positioning themselves in some fashion or another to deliver regular TV content online -- for a fee.
According to Peter Kafka at Media Memo, with a pay-per-episode arrangement similarly priced to iTunes, YouTube hopes to lure TV programmers into allowing the company to rent out episodes starting the day after they initially appear on television. In what may prove a tough sell to customers, YouTube's model seems predicated only on streaming programs from their servers to desktops. Discouragingly, both TV and Google executives cited studies that suggest most programs, once purchased, are only viewed once.
There doesn't appear to be any word as to whether or not viewers could potentially "own" the rights to stream the videos whenever they wanted and as often as they wanted, nor whether the native YouTube app on the iPhone would allow for such streaming. While this "rental" model does appear to bear resemblance to offerings from NetFlix or other DVD rental services, the exact details of YouTube's subscriber service remain a mystery.
In comparison, iTunes offers you the ability to transfer your programs, once downloaded physically to your hard drive, to various Apple devices, and Amazon lets you move programs to your Tivo. Content purchased on iTunes remains the property of the purchaser (which might not necessarily be the case with Amazon...Orwell, anyone?). Whether or not users, who've become accustomed to either free videos or outright ownership, are willing to pay for something as tenuous as streaming rights remains to be seen.
As of right now, it appears that Google's betting they are.