Google Inc. is upping the ante in the online video gold rush, allowing content owners to set their own prices in a bid to create a more flexible alternative to Apple Computer Inc's pioneering iTunes store.
The upcoming Google Video Store, announced on Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show, already has lined up commitments to sell thousands of downloads, including recent television broadcasts of popular CBS shows and professional basketball games, as well as vintage episodes from series that went off the air decades ago. A launch date for the store has not been released.
"This is a historic meeting of established and new media," Google co-founder Larry Page said during a keynote speech.
Page drew a sellout crowd, a turnout usually only drawn by technology luminaries such as Microsoft Corp's Bill Gates, who has headlined the electronics show for 10 years.
"It's the biggest marketplace of content that was previously off-line and is now brought online," said Jennifer Feikin, director of Google Video.
Since Apple began selling video downloads for its iconic iPod in October, a flurry of companies have joined forces to distribute TV programming or other video content. The company says it currently offers more than 3,000 music videos and 300 television shows for sale.
Google's flexible pricing model sets its service apart.
Apple dictates all the pricing in its iTunes store, charging US$1.99 for each video download and US$0.99 for each song downloaded. The restrictions already have caused considerable consternation in the music recording industry and eventually could trigger a backlash on the video side.
With Google's marketplace, content suppliers can name their own price, from zero on up. The content owners who charge for video downloads must share 30 percent of the revenue with Google.
The video providers have the option of offering content on a download-to-own or download-to-rent basis.
In a sign that content owners will likely pursue different approaches through Google Video, the National Basketball Association will sell broadcasts of its games one day after the event for US$3.95.
Meanwhile, public television staple Charlie Rose will post his interviews the day after a broadcast, allowing a free streaming for the first 24 hours then making it downloadable afterward for US$0.99 each.
Meanwhile, CBS is selling episodes of its popular CSI and Survivor series at the standard iTunes price of US$1.99 per download.
Although Google's service allows content owners more pricing freedom, it isn't necessarily as liberating for users.
While all of videos downloaded through Apple can be transferred onto a portable player -- albeit only its own iPod -- for on-the-go viewing, that won't be true at Google's service.
Google has developed its own copy protection technology that so far prevents content owners from moving their video downloads to a mobile playing device.
In instances where the content provider adopts Google's copy protection scheme, watching a video sold through Google will require users to be online so they can log on and view it via the company's video player. CBS and the NBA are among the content owners adopting Google's copy protections.