Google Inc. is mulling whether or not to offer paid television streaming via its YouTube subsidiary, and the scuttle is that the move could give Apple Inc.’s hegemony on per-episode purchases a run for its money.
The cost per YouTube episode will reportedly be $1.99 – the same as the average cost of a television episode on iTunes – but of course, the two approaches will be very different.
For instance, a purchase through iTunes gives you a download of a piece of content that can then be burned to a DVD or shared with other devices. YouTube, on the other hand, would offer the ability to stream the content to any Internet-connected device, including, incidentally, the iPhone, which has a built-in YouTube widget.
A consumer’s preference really comes down to his or her attitude towards the cloud. Some feel much more comfortable owning the content and having it reside on the computer or handset. Others would rather not deal with the memory concerns involved in storing video content on-device.
There’s also an inherent advantage YouTube (or any cloud-based service, really) would have over iTunes: If one buys a piece of content from Apple, there’s no way to easily re-download that purchase if one’s hard drive crashes, unless the user is a MobileMe subscriber (which backs up iTunes content in the cloud). If the content is lost and one tries to download it again, iTunes will remind you that you’ve already purchased the item, but will still charge you again for a second download. There are options for recovering the content, but none of them are simple.
If Google wades into the pay TV space, let’s not forget that it will also compete with services like Netflix, which offers streaming of television shows as a free add-on to its $8.99 monthly subscription, cable and IPTV on-demand services, and other online streaming sites like Hulu.com. Time will tell if the brand, the user interface, the stable of titles and the pricing scheme will put the service out ahead of the pack.