Hulu Pricing Talk And YouTube Sundance Rentals Point To Big Moves For Video On Demand

This year it is becoming more and more bearable for those of us movie fans unable to attend the Sundance Film Festival. Earlier this month, Rainbow Media announced that its Sundance Selects video-on-demand cable channel would be premiering three new titles from the 2010 festival while these films were simultaneously debuting in Park City, Utah. Now YouTube has revealed similarly good news: the online streaming video site will begin offering selections from the festival to rent through your Google account.

YouTube’s Sundance rentals, which will only be available through the duration of this year’s fest — starting tomorrow and running through January 31 — include two of last year’s screenings (the terrific documentary “The Cove” and the acclaimed indie drama “Children of Invention”) and three new films that are playing at the 2010 festival (“Bass Ackwards,” “Homewrecker” and “One Too Many Mornings”). The YouTube Blog has trailers for each of these films, as well as instructions on how to rent them if you’re interested.

The site will additionally begin offering other non-Sundance titles for rent “in the weeks ahead,” and will continue looking at this year’s fest for other films to make available in the future. In a statement on the blog, the site claims that this rental service gives independent filmmakers less of a new outlet — since anyone can upload a movie to the site and stream it for free, with or without ad-support — so much as a new way of receiving deserved payment for their work.

Those filmmakers distributing through YouTube will have control over the cost of rental and the duration of rental availability, while also retaining complete rights to their works. This would explain how “Bass Ackwards,” for example, will also be available immediately after its Sundance premiere on iTunes and other video-on-demand services.

It may seem strange at first to think of paying for YouTube content, yet popular websites are increasingly attempting to charge for their content. The LA Times’ Company Town blog today detailed the plans for Hulu to begin a $4.99/month subscription service for users who wish to watch older episodes of shows like “30 Rock” and “House” (brand new episodes will still be available for free, with the limited commercial interruptions). Other sites that have recently gone the fee-charging route include the New York Times, Variety and Pandora.

It’s certainly a good idea in YouTube’s model, as we’re getting an easier and more immediate way to watch these Sundance selections, plus it’s important for the filmmakers to be paid fairly. But does the rest of this cost-adding trend signal a scary time for constant movie watchers? Is it only a matter of time before Netflix raises costs because subscribers are primarily watching films through its online streaming option? Or before more sites we regularly visit for film-related content (SnagFilms, FunnyOrDie, etc.) put a price on their videos and another hand in our wallets? We shall see as the technology continues to develop.

Will you rent videos, Sundance or otherwise, from YouTube? What do you think of suddenly having to pay for content you’re used to getting for free, in general? What sites do you hope never succumbs to this trend?