Make it a Google Night?

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By Alyce Lomax

On Monday night, Google 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, 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 or Blockbuster
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.

Netflix is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.


Copyright 2006 Motley Fool

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