On Monday night, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) launched its online video store -- in beta form, of course. But the high-priced search giant that can supposedly do no wrong might have fallen a little short on this one. Despite the interesting aspects to Google's video offering, the major takeaway may simply be that mainstream Internet users are ready to consume video through their PCs.
The buzz around the Web has emphasized that there isn't much there there at the moment. Some pundits say the most interesting element of Google Video is that amateurs can distribute or even sell their video content there -- and thus benefit from the democratization of content on the Internet. I agree, but that certainly doesn't mean there isn't a lot of Googley video garbage right now. Trust me, there are definitely some video clips that appeared to teeter on the edge of very poor taste, or that simply looked too stupid for words. (I had better luck doing some specific searches for video that I was familiar with, as opposed to clicking on the "most popular" clips.)
When it comes to the widespread accessibility of Internet video distribution, though, I can't help thinking of a site out there that's already scoring points with young people -- a video-swapping site called YouTube. It was there that I recently accessed the Saturday Night Live "Lazy Sunday" skit -- a good old-fashioned viral Internet phenomenon. It turns out that YouTube -- which has venture capital backing from Sequoia Capital, which also backed Google in the old days -- is actually the fastest-growing provider of video downloads. Visitors to that site have doubled in less than a year of operation. (The "Lazy Sunday" video gave the site a spike of 2.3 million visitors for the week ended Dec. 18.) Oh, yeah, and YouTube is free.
But back to Google. A search for movies for sale at Google Video yielded a lot of results that I frankly have never heard of. And there were some rather eye-popping price tags for obscure downloads to boot, although Google does offer an interesting "day pass," through which a user buys just one day's access to a video selection for a far cheaper price.
When it comes to television shows, there are a few tried-and-true favorites, including some episodes from the Star Trek franchise (Voyager and Deep Space Nine), Twilight Zone, and I Love Lucy, as well as some newer names, such as Survivor and CSI. For a fee, Google Video also offers sports games.
Don't worry -- I'm not going to forget about the elephant in the room that is Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , with its increasing distribution of hot video content through iTunes and ready for download to the video-enabled iPod, one of the holiday season's most popular consumer gadgets. (Google includes instructions for iPod junkies to download video to their iPods, of course.) Meanwhile, the whole video downloading concept is far too new to give video giants such as Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) or Blockbuster (Nasdaq: BBI ) anything to worry about just yet.
Granted, Google's video content selection likely won't be scarce for long. And while I think it's an idea with potential, given the inevitability of video-over-broadband, I don't see that there's much of a moat protecting Google's offering from competitors. After all, the Web has been awash with stories of Internet companies that are posturing about video downloads as well, and many companies are also distributing content via video-on-demand options too.
In this regard, Google may be able to do no wrong in the eyes of investors, but one has to wonder whether, in this case, it will do no better. Regardless, put your feet up and grab your microwave popcorn, because online video's definitely going to get more interesting.
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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.