John Brandon

Feature length movies on YouTube: not a good idea

By John Brandon
November 06, 2008 3:56 PM EST announced today that they'll soon start hosting feature length films -- possibly as soon as next month. CNET reported that the Google-owned viral video site, known for contributing to the budding career of talented actors like Obamagirl and Tay Zonday, is in negotiations with at least one major movie studio. Recently, the site started hosting full length TV shows and has made agreements with record labels to host music videos.  

Okay, so is the goal at YouTube to become the single source of all video content on the Internet? That's an ambitious goal, but is has several problems.

One is that the quality on YouTube is abysmal. It's about the worst on the Web and looks washed-out and choppy compared to services such as Hulu and Vimeo. YouTube has deals with companies like Netgear so that users can access the content from a media streaming device, and you can watch YouTube videos on your Android-powered phone, which makes the media companies happy: end-users can't save the content and use it on any device they want.

I hate that model. Streaming media is great for viral videos that you watch for five minutes and get a quick laugh. They work okay for music videos and short clips. But, whenever I want to actually watch a TV show or movie, I always either get the DVD, record them to DISH, or download the file from iTunes.

Long-form videos do not work well for streaming because it's important to have some flexibility: when you own the video, you can watch a portion of it on your PC, copy it to your iPod, watch the rest of it on a media streaming device, and store it for later viewing. Streaming is a pain -- it makes the content less enjoyable because it's hard to fast forward, and impossible to port it to another device.

I think YouTube is a great repository for short videos, but people will get confused if they start hosting a lot of "real" content. Not too long ago, I wrote a feature article on how YouTube could become a great aggregator for all videos, including news reports, TV shows, and movies. I have since taken a new stance -- YouTube really only works for spontaneous viewing. Maybe they could change their model -- allowing us to download a movie -- but they'd have to change the name of the service.

John Brandon is a regular contributor to Computerworld, a print journalist, music reviewer, and book author.