Google's ever-expanding presence could mean trouble for Hulu and iTunes, as YouTube may one day let you buy streaming TV shows the day after they air. If a report by All Things D's Peter Kafka is correct, Apple and Hulu should worry because Google is well-positioned to be a network TV streaming powerhouse, and this time it's no joke.
But Google's foray into selling TV shows on YouTube has one major problem in the eyes of skeptics: Google wants to stream the TV shows instead of letting customers download them, so you'd need an Internet connection to watch. That could be a problem for travelers, who can always take their media with them and play it back in full resolution. Apple Insider says Google's plans "would seem to offer less functionality" for the same $1.99 as a show on iTunes. Kafka himself says streaming could be "a tough sell."
The naysayers may have a point now, but Google is way ahead of the curve on both the future of Internet access and the availability of YouTube on a myriad of devices.
By Google's logic, eventually the Internet will be everywhere. That's the idea behind Chrome OS, and that's what would make paid YouTube content a success. You already get Internet access throughout your home, in coffee shops, and at libraries with Wi-Fi; and there's a renewed interest in Wi-Fi hotspots. Smartphones and 3G cards extend the connectivity. Over time, connection speeds and availability will increase even more thanks to next-generation wireless technologies such as WiMax and LTE, and the capability to stream high-definition content from YouTube will get easier.
The other part of the equation is YouTube's own ubiquity. Of course I can watch YouTube on my computer, but I can also get it through my iPhone and my Wii or Playstation 3. You can access YouTube on Blu-ray players and HDTVs as well. Microsoft likes to talk fancy about the "three screens," but Google is already there. Hulu, on the other hand, has gone in the opposite direction by restricting its content to the computer screen. It's rumored that Hulu may adopt a premium subscription model next year, but who would want to pay for that?
Paid TV on YouTube would eliminate the need to transfer files. If I buy a TV show through iTunes on my computer, I then have to transfer it to my phone. If I buy it on my phone, I then have to transfer it to my computer. Only then can I stream it to my Playstation 3, which is redundant if I could just stream it from the Internet instead. Transferring files is a pain, but being able to immediately stream a video through YouTube is a luxury.
Yes, local storage still wins out when you're on a plane, but with airlines steadily adding in-flight Wi-Fi, that might not be an issue before long. I could even see Google subsidizing the cost of your mid-air wireless session in exchange for a movie purchase or two. The company has already sponsored free airport and in-flight Wi-Fi simply for the PR. And if you're the type that brings movies on a camping trip, then fine, I concede that downloadable media through iTunes is the right choice for you.
For me, the ability to instantly watch television shows on all of my screens, without ever dealing with USB cables, Windows Explorer, and compatible file types, trumps all.