• 4 Items Worth Noting for the Jan 18th Week (YouTube rentals, Newspaper bankruptcies, Prada's film, iSlate hype)

    Following are 4 items worth noting for the January 18th week:

    1. YouTube dips toe into film rentals, more to come - This week YouTube took a very small step into film rentals, announcing that 5 indie films will be available for $3.99 apiece until the end of the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 31st, and that it is launching a "Filmmakers Wanted" program to bring additional indie films (and possibly other content) to YouTube's audience for rental.

    Last fall, when the WSJ first broke the news that YouTube was negotiating with a number of Hollywood studios about launching a full-blown rental store, I thought the plan was intriguing, but dubious. I argued that YouTube needed to stay focused on getting its ad model right, that it would be hard to differentiate its film rentals from those of myriad competitors and that the revenue upside for YouTube was relatively small.

    I continue to believe those things and hope YouTube isn't still pursuing Hollywood dreams. That said, I do like the idea of it offering a paid option for indie and other hard-to-find video. YouTube's massive audience brings real promotional value to these often-obscure, yet high-quality titles, potentially significant revenue to their producers and for YouTube, another meaningful step away from pure UGC content. Rentals won't generate significant revenue for YouTube, but with Google executives on the company's earnings call yesterday saying that "YouTube is monetizing well," so long as it doesn't divert too many resources away from advertising, that's ok.

    2. Revenue models matter, just ask the newspaper industry - This week brought news that MediaNews Group, publisher of 54 U.S. newspapers, including the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News, will file for bankruptcy. For those keeping count, it's at least the 13th bankruptcy filing by a major U.S. newspaper publisher in the last year.

    While the newspaper industry has been racked by the recession and ad-spending slowdown, the larger issue is that 15 years since the Internet's popularity took off, newspapers still have not been able to define a sustainable online business model. Many simply lunged headlong into providing their full print editions online, only to find out that online advertising wasn't sufficient to support their overhead and that Google commoditized their headlines. Others, like the NYTimes tried (and will continue to try) to find a balance between advertising and reader payments.

    I've touched on this before, but the havoc being wreaked in the newspaper is a red-letter warning to video industry participants to cautiously guard existing revenue models while transitioning to digital delivery. Some consumers and techies may consider a deliberate pace to be bureaucratic foot-dragging, but for video content producers and distributors to remain viable, a deliberate ready-aim-fire approach to digital delivery is essential.

    3. Prada's short online film is intriguing - speaking of newspapers, lately I've become convinced that one of the choicest pieces of online real estate for advertisers is the home page of NYTimes.com, which I frequent. On any given day you'll see huge rich media ads and roadblocks for high-profile brands and product launches. One that caught my attention earlier this week was by luxury fashion company Prada, promoting a 9-minute film by Chinese director Yang Fudong called "First Spring" (it's also available on YouTube) in which the actors are wearing Prada menswear.

    I'm not a Prada patron, and I found the film dreary and odd, nonetheless, what intrigued me was how online video has given Prada a whole new outlet to build its brand's aura, a key to success for all luxury brands. Buying TV ads would be incredibly inefficient for Prada, and magazine spreads only go so far. With a short online film, Prada can target its audience well and engage them as long as it pleases. For creative and advertising types alike, that's a compelling opportunity.

    4. Get ready for the week of the Apple tablet - In case you missed it, this week Apple sent invites to the press for a Jan. 27th event to "come see our latest creation" - widely believed to be the company's new tablet computer. The buzz behind the product, thought to be called the "iSlate," has been steadily building for weeks now. Next week it will reach a crescendo. We can expect Steve Jobs to bring his A game to the mother of all product demos as the stakes are high for Apple to deliver major wows.

    While the product will no doubt be off the charts cool, the nagging question is whether large numbers of people will buy it for the rumored price of $1,000. Gadgets in that price range rarely get much traction, so to succeed the iSlate has to offer essential new value. Video could be its key differentiator, especially if Apple has new content deals to announce. A connected iSlate, with a gorgeous screen and easy portability (sort of an "iPhone on steroids") could open yet another chapter in video distribution and consumption.

    Enjoy your weekend!