SAN FRANCISCO - YouTube, Google Inc's video website, said it will begin testing an online movie rental service with independent films from the Sundance Film Festival on Friday.
The service will be initially limited to five Sundance titles, as well as a small collection of videos from partners in industries such as health and education, and will be available to web surfers through the end of the month, YouTube said in a post on its company blog on Wednesday.
In the coming weeks, YouTube said it will invite other independent partners to participate in the rental service, which it said provides a new option besides the ad-supported model that YouTube currently uses to offer video on its site.
YouTube spokesman Chris Dale said the program could potentially be expanded to eventually include recently released films from the major Hollywood studios, though he would not say whether the company has had discussions with the studios about such an offering.
A source familiar with the matter told Reuters in September that YouTube was in talks with several studios, including Lions Gate Entertainment Corp and Sony Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp, about an online video rental program similar to Apple Inc's iTunes and Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc offerings.
YouTube, the world's most popular video website, currently offers older films and TV shows and other video content from partners like MGM Worldwide Digital Media and Walt Disney Co, as well as a massive trove of home videos made by web surfers, all of which are available for free, on an advertising-supported basis.
Dale said filmmakers participating in the new online rental program could charge web surfers between 99 cents and $19.99 to rent movies, which could be available to users for a period of 24 hours to a maximum of 90 days.
Partners in the new program will keep the majority of the revenue generated from film rentals, Dale said.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)