In theory, this is great, because Netflix (NAS: NFLX) will lose most of its House of Mouse content when the Liberty Starz (NAS: LSTZA) contract expires in February. The Disney Channel stuff will still be around as Netflix cut a separate side deal for TV content, but Starz-backed films like Toy Story 3 and Tangled are going bye-bye.
So YouTube rides to the rescue, banners aflutter and trumpets blaring. Now you can pay $2 to rent Cars for 24 hours or $4 for Cars 2. After plunking down your cash, you get 30 days to start watching and then 24 to 48 hours to finish, depending on the movie. You can also enjoy the Pooh remake, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, or Alice in Wonderland.
That's about it, as far as I can tell -- a very Lilliputian catalog of five films. If there are more titles on the way, the company isn't saying. And the story gets worse.
Where's the beef?
It isn't easy to peruse the avowed Disney collection -- a cardinal sin for a professional information organizer like Google. YouTube Movies collections make it easy to suck down the available works of Jason Bateman, or Stanley Kubrick, or gangster movies -- but Disney doesn't get that red-carpet treatment.
In fact, YouTube Movies doesn't even seem to have a dedicated search function. Using the search box mixes the full-length movies up with regular short-form YouTube content, making it hard to find what you're looking for. Search for "Disney" there, and you'll also find Sony production The Animal starring Rob Schneider, as well as a very non-Disney Nigerian take on Beauty and the Beast. Probably not what you wanted.
But then again, this deal may not be quite as exclusive as the announcement would have you believe.
Lots of options
Many of the same titles are available in the Apple (NAS: AAPL) iTunes movie store, albeit typically to buy for $15 rather than renting for a smaller fee. And iTunes also offers other Disney titles such as The Lion King, which I can't find in YouTube Movies.
And that's not all: Amazon.com (NAS: AMZN) offers a large Disney library for both rental and download-to-buy enjoyment. CinemaNow, owned by Best Buy (NYS: BBY) , also has a large collection of easily searchable Disney movies, yours to own for $10 to $16 a pop.
So this isn't the ultimate Disney collection to end the digital drought but just another "me-too" deal presented as an exclusive win. Don't fall for it.
If Google really wants to turn YouTube into a feature-film service to rival iTunes and Amazon (Netflix's subscription model is a whole 'nother ball of celluloid), Big G needs to do much better than this. Let's start with better movie search and browsing, and then start building a better library.
Read up on the state of digital cinema:
John Reeves unearthed Shakespeare's Timeless Lessons for Investors, including advice on Netflix.
Dan Caplinger presents Your Short List of Year-End Must-Dos.
Is Amazon.com the New Netflix? asks Rick Munarriz.
At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorAnders Bylundowns shares of Google and Netflix but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Best Buy, Apple, and Google.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Netflix, Apple, Amazon.com, Google, and Walt Disney. We have also recommended writing covered calls in Best Buy and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Check outAnders' holdings and bio, or follow him onTwitterandGoogle+. We have adisclosure policy.