Google's YouTube starts movie rentals on Friday with Sundance flicks

Google this week will open another front on its war with Apple. This time, it takes aim at iTunes Movie rentals. Like most Google projects, it starts innocent enough, by only offering movies from the Sundance Film festival and from other independent filmmakers.

And so, we are excited today to announce our partnership with the Sundance Film Festival to make five films from the 2010 and 2009 festivals available for rent for U.S. users on YouTube starting this Friday and running through Sunday, January 31. In addition to these five films, a small collection of rental videos from other U.S. partners across different industries, including health and education, will be made available in the weeks ahead. We’re also excited to put out the call for more independent filmmakers to join the rental program as part of our "Filmmakers Wanted" campaign at the festival.

But that's just the beginning. If there is anything more popular to media consumers than iTunes, it is YouTube and Google has an audience of hundreds of millions.

Will Google be able to convert those who casually watch Internet videos into paying customers though?

It wouldn't be hard to see Google offering movies at much lower prices than Apple, Amazon or Netflix with smaller margins. And really, with what YouTube announced today, even distributors should be worried. Why sell through a dedicated distributor when there is an audience of 100 million video watchers at your fingertips?

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