Can YouTube even handle movies?

Greg Sandoval at CNET had a story today saying that he heard from a couple of sources close to YouTube that the company will soon be launching full-length movies. This led to a raft of posts echoing the story, most of which mentioned that this seemed like a plausible rumour — since YouTube now offers full-length TV shows from a couple of networks, and also has a “theater” setting that offers a wider viewer and slightly better quality. But only a couple of blogs that mentioned the story raised what I think is the most important issue: Can YouTube’s infrastructure even handle the real-time streaming of full-length movies?

Robert McLaws, for example, mentioned what I think is a pretty routine occurrence for most people when watching YouTube videos, and that’s the “buffering” message (I get that a fair bit even though I have an 8-megabit connection). John Brandon at Computerworld mentioned the crappy quality of most YouTube videos, and Nick Carlson at Silicon Alley Insider noted that YouTube videos aren’t actually streamed, but are downloaded to the user’s computer — meaning they can easily be copied.

Will the studios allow such downloading without layering on levels of DRM? Unlikely. In which case, as Nick points out, YouTube might have to set up a different system that actually streams those movies, an infrastructure that theoretically would have to support streaming to tens of millions of people. That sounds like a very expensive proposition — even for a company that has billions of dollars in the bank, as Google does. Billionaire sports and media mogul Mark Cuban has written a lot about doing “real” video over the Internet, and doesn’t think it’s even worth bothering.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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