Google Punts on Independent Media Distribution with Movie Marketplace and Music Beta

Back in November I criticized Google's Android operating system for lacking an iTunes-esque media marketplace. Android's openness seemed a good match for independent content creators, except it lacked a streamlined way to sell media content. Yesterday, at Google I/O, the Big G finally announced an Android Movies Marketplace, as well as an Amazon Cloud Player-esque Music Beta. While the former is a proper Movie rental marketplace, the latter is not a direct iTunes competitor, but rather a cloud-based synching player: Dropbox for music, if you will. Despite Android's potential, however, at launch neither solution seems to be particularly consequential for independent content creators.

Here's the Music launch vid:

Google is thus joining Amazon, Pandora, and my former employer Rhapsody in the music streaming game; here's a comparison of the various offerings. No word yet on Google Music's pricing, which will launch as a free beta service that stores 20,000 songs; whatever the storage/synching service costs, however, it is not a proper music store (you have to buy your songs from another source). While this is yet another chapter in the ongoing content distribution battle between Apple and Google, with Apple winning in the simplicity and elegance departments and Google winning in the openness and extensibility realms (see the new Android @ Home initiative, which allows Android devices to control your home's lighting, among other appliances), Google seems to have given up on getting music labels on board and is simply offering a way to cloud-ify your existing library.

As for the long-overdue Movie Marketplace, it doesn't appear to be anything groundbreaking. Rented movies will be available on computers, tablets, and phones for 30 days (like some other services, once you start watching a rental you've got 24 hours to finish it). Pricing seems to run $1.99-$3.99 for a rental (though there have been reports of $4.99 HD titles). So rather than launch an open version of iTunes, Google has launched a limited catalog of DRM'd mainstream movies (available to rent, not own), and has seemingly punted on offering any music for sale. Despite the friendly-to-independents pricing structure of Google One Pass and the openness of the Android App Marketplace, it doesn't seem like there's any way to get a self-distributed film into the Movie Marketplace. Hopefully that will change with time.

The Movie Marketplace and the associated App Market will also be coming to the Android-powered Google TV, which could at least help Google TV finally fulfill some of its considerable potential. This summer, the newly-announced Android 3.1 (pictured) will hit gTV, and new devices from Samsung and Vizio should join the current (scant) offerings from Sony and Logitech. Will it be enough to turn Google TV from novelty device into game-changer? Probably not, but at this point, I'll be happy as long as Google keeps developing their TV device, as I still think it could be a crucial piece in the cord-cutting movement that should bring more choice and control to the TV market (where power currently rests with the corporate oligarchies that are Cable TV companies).

Regardless, with 100 million device activations (400k a day), Android is a force to be reckoned with. ((Now if only Google could keep older Android devices working -- my Motorola Droid is ridiculously slow and buggy.)) And despite the platform's continued shortcomings as a distribution vehicle for independent media, it's hard not to want to get on board with a hacker-friendly OS that offers an open-source hardware development kit. Say what you want about Apple's brilliant designs; the DIY hardware revolution, of which this site is an obvious proponent, will be aided a lot more by Android than by iOS. It'd be nice if the same could be said for independent media distribution.

The Movies Marketplace is available now on some Android devices and should be rolling out to 2.2-era phones any day. The Music Beta is only available with an invite, which you can sign up for below.


DISCLOSURE: I was the recipient of one of 10,000 free Google TVs for developers (now an expired offer).

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I should addend to this post that YouTube has revamped their VOD offerings, but it seems so far it's also major studio-focused.

May 11, 2011 at 12:18PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Ryan Koo