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YouTube discusses online rentals with film studios

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Google Inc’s is talking with major about providing movies for an online rental service that started on Friday with five independent films from the Sundance Film Festival.

The discussions reflect Google’s interest in expanding the fledgling service, which offers the Sundance movies for 24-hour to 48-hours for $3.99, David Eun, Google’s vice-president for content partnerships, said on Friday in an interview.

YouTube, the world’s most popular video-sharing site, is seeking new ways to generate revenue. Record labels led by started the advertising-supported Vevo site with YouTube in December. With movie rentals, film makers can decide how much to charge and retain all movie rights.

The talks range from “big-media studios to new-media startups, individual filmmakers,” said Eun, who declined to elaborate on the discussions. “We don’t want to own content. We want to be a neutral platform.”

Eun spoke following a Sundance news conference in Park City, Utah, to introduce the directors of three of the films offered by YouTube.

The agreement with Sundance is a “first step” to a potentially larger rental service, Eun said at the press event. “We are experimenting, frankly,” he said.

The movies will be available through the festival’s 31 January close, Sundance said in a statement.

The service gives filmmakers a chance to attract viewers at a time when theatrical distribution deals are becoming more difficult to get, said Todd Barnes, co-director of “Homewrecker,” one of the movies being shown.

‘Huge screening’
“We think of it as a huge screening,” Barnes said. “We just sent an e-mail to a friend and said, ‘We’re going to premiere at Sundance. Why don’t you watch it at home?’”

Many studios have pared back distribution and some have closed units that specialised in independent movies. Of the 9,000 movies submitted to Sundance last year, 53 were distributed to theaters, Google said on its Web site.

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