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Time to Show YouTube (and Hulu?) the Money

In conjunction with the Sundance Film Festival, YouTube announced the advent of a movie rental beta will launch today.

The Google-owned YouTube plans to keep the beta constrained, offering a "small collection" of movies. The first five films available for rental are from the Sundance Film Festival, which is ongoing. The films are split between entries to last year’s and this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

"Making content available for rent will give our partners unprecedented control over the distribution of their work," said YouTube in a blog posting. "They can decide the price of their videos and the rental duration. They can decide when and where their content is available, and they can keep 100 percent of their rights."

The current batch of movies rents for $3.99 each and must be viewed within 48 hours of ordering.

The "100 percent of their rights" comment appears to be yet another warning shot to Apple, which is set to roll out a large-screen mobile viewing device (i.e., a tablet) as early as next week. The company has been accused of taking too high a percentage of revenues for its distribution of digital movies, but YouTube has yet to reveal its distribution take.

Earlier this week, an article about news services charging for content discussed possible plans by The New York Times to charge for access to its content. On Wednesday, the parent company confirmed it will no longer allow non-subscribers to freely access all the newspaper's content, including video files.

"Starting in January 2011, a visitor to NYTimes.com will be allowed to view a certain number of articles free each month," the Times' Richard Perez-Pena wrote in his media and entertainment blog. "To read more, the reader must pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the print newspaper, even those who subscribe only to the Sunday paper, will receive full access to the site without any additional charge."

The tieback to the physical copy as a vehicle for unlimited access to the website content is in keeping with the model that the Wall Street Journal has used for about a year. On the Journal's site, a frequent visitor is asked, after reading a number of articles within a few day's time, to either register or identify himself as a subscriber.

"This announcement allows us to begin the thought process that’s going to answer so many of the questions that we all care about," said Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. "We can’t get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right."

Hulu is also considering a move to a $4.99 per month subscription for some of its more popular video content, although there is no official confirmation as of yet. In a Los Angeles Times blog posting, Dawn Chmielewksi notes off-the-record conversations about Hulu's potential plans.

"The site has spent months studying how to strike a balance between what people expect to watch free online and what they would be willing to pay for," Chmielewksi writes. "One plan being considered would allow users to view the five most recent episodes of TV shows free but would require a subscription of $4.99 a month to watch older episodes. Hulu believes it will need at least 20 TV series—both current ones and those no longer on the air—to make such a pay service attractive to users."

While news of Hulu's potential pay-for-play concept has been around for several months, this appears to be the first time a dollar figure has been attached. Still, Chmielewksi warns, firm pricing may not appear for another six months.

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