Why I Won’t Rent Movies from Google Anytime Soon
Last week, YouTube expanded its movie rental library with the addition of about 500 new release titles from Paramount, followed by another 600 films from MGM this week.
What’s that you say? You didn’t know that YouTube runs a movie rental library?
This actually isn’t new. YouTube started offering rentals over a year ago. But the service hasn’t drawn a lot of attention. Maybe it’s a lack of content; maybe it’s because Google isn’t exactly promoting it (aside from adding a small link that says “movies” to the top of the page, where it doesn’t exactly jump out.)
But now that Google signed Paramount and MGM for rentals, things could get more interesting. Or so I thought.
Turns out that “interesting” is about the nicest thing I can say about my experience trying out the service. (Queue beginning of rant please.)
For starters, the experience is very different depending on which device you’re using. Relatively speaking, a web browser on a computer provides the best experience and the widest variety of content.
If you’re viewing on a computer, you can access free movies from Sony’s Crackle service in addition to the rental content available through YouTube. Crackle allows you to watch hundreds of ad-supported movies and TV shows for free, and is also available via apps for Android, iOS, Roku and a whole host of other devices (but not Google TV, in case you were wondering. I’ll delve into that later.)
But YouTube only allows you to access Crackle content through a computer, other devices don’t carry the same access. That said, some of the same titles are available for rental, if you’d like to pay $2.99 for something you can watch for free through another app.
And as far as connected devices go, it’s a mess. YouTube movie rentals don’t exist, as far as iOS and Google TV are concerned – these devices have YouTube apps, but you won’t find any rental content there. The Google TV issue is especially perplexing, because you used to be able to rent and watch YouTube movies through a Google TV, back when YouTube didn’t have any content. But as of January 1st of this year, that’s no longer the case. Behold, from Google’s YouTube support page:
However, if you have a Google TV there IS a way you can watch the free Crackle content that’s available through YouTube Movies. All you have to do is switch to a generic user agent in Chrome, and access YouTube through the web browser (but this will not allow you to watch rental titles, unfortunately, and it won’t get you over the Hulu hurdle either). It’s a simple process, if you have the patience to fiddle around in the browser settings for a while.
Here’s how you do it: Open the Chrome browser, then press the Options button (the one that looks like a bunch of lines, on the bottom of the D-pad on the right side of the controller.) Then, go to Settings, followed by Advanced Settings. Under Advanced Settings, scroll down using the buttons on the left and then use the twitchy mouse button on the right to navigate to User Agent and select “Generic User Agent.”
Then you’ll notice that there’s no place to confirm the settings. The “OK” button at the bottom of the page is only for adding a custom user agent. You’ll need to hit the Back button repeatedly to get back to the home screen. It may seem like you’re deleting your settings, but your changes will save. Don’t worry, I checked.
Now you should be able to go to YouTube using the browser on your Google TV and view the free titles from Crackle. Or, you could just go to the Crackle website since you can’t view any of YouTube’s rental content anyway. Simple, right?
If you have an Android phone or tablet, you can rent movies but you won’t see the free content from Crackle (you’ll find that all in the Crackle app.) Also, there’s this:
So on your computer, you can rent movies through YouTube. But on your Android mobile device, you rent those same movies through the Google Play app, not the YouTube app.
Are you confused yet? Because then you have to open ANOTHER app, “Play Movies,” in order to view movies you’ve rented. Fortunately, the Google Play and Play Movies apps are pretty well integrated, but it still feels way too complicated.
There’s still not a lot of content on YouTube/Play Movies compared to Amazon and iTunes, both of which offer movie rentals and work with multiple devices. And you don’t have the option to buy titles at this point, either. As far as pricing goes, YouTube rentals are available from $1.99 and up; most titles are $2.99 for SD and $3.99 for HD (where available — most titles I looked at were SD only), and the rental period is 48 hours. Most titles give you a 30-day window to begin watching the movie, but this is not the case for the handful of titles that are on YouTube Movies before they hit theaters (you’ve only got 48 hours to watch those.)
And with that I give you the one thing that makes YouTube stand out from its competitors: YouTube also offers rental access to a few titles before they’re released in theatres, or while they’re still in theaters, with a price tag between $6.99 and $9.99. For example, you can currently rent the movie “Hit So Hard” while it’s still in theaters, or the movie “Goon” before it’s in theaters, for $6.99 ($7.99 if you want HD.) This is a big deal, since most cable providers and streaming services have a hard enough time getting new releases at the same time they’re released on DVD.
Inconsistent user experience aside, my main problem with the service is the amount of information you have to cough up in order to actually rent a movie through Google Play. You can’t just put in your address and credit card info — you have to sign up for a Google Wallet account, which requires that you use your phone number for verification.
While I’m well aware that Google probably has all of my info already, I’m the kind of girl who puts a bogus phone number in when making small online purchases, and 99.5% of the time it’s not actually used for bank verification.
So it bothers me that Google does verification via phone and not email, because I don’t want to give them my actual phone number (though again, I realize my Android phone is probably sending them a lot more than that anyway. I noticed it conveniently filed some cat videos from my phone into my Play Movies app. But I digress.)
I’ve avoided linking my phone number to my Gmail address, even though I’m pestered to do so every time I log in to my account. I only purchase apps for my phone through the Amazon Appstore, because I don’t want to sign up for Google Wallet and voluntarily give them the info that they probably already have. It’s a matter of principle.
I’d venture to guess I’m not the only person who feels this way about giving all their information to Google. And since they require your actual phone number in order to complete a transaction, that means quite a few people who will be renting their movies through Amazon and iTunes instead of Google Play.