YouTube Enables Video Downloads

YouTube has announced that after over three years of streaming user-uploaded video, it is shutting down... Or at least that is what we thought when we first saw the headline of the blog entry that went up today on YouTube's official blog. The headline read: "YouTube Goes Offline." No, YouTube is alive and strong and isn't going anywhere (at least that we know of). What the upon-first-glance, potentially-misleading title is actually referring to is that YouTube is now enabling, sanctioned video downloads. That's what "offline" refers to--you can now download videos and watch them offline, instead of only while online. Get it?

These downloads will not be available for all of YouTube's videos; but some content providers can arrange for their videos to be able to be downloaded for free or for a fee (via Google Checkout), under Creative Commons licenses. YouTube is regarding this paradigm shift as a "test," and as such is only initially allowing downloads from a very limited number of content providers. Stanford, Duke, UC Berkeley, and UCLA are four universities that are part of this initial test. Select content from these schools--as well as from UCTV (which provides content throughout the University of California system)--is available for download for free from YouTube, such as lectures and classes. YouTube has also enabled paid downloads from a number of content providers, such as khanacademy, householdhacker, and pogobat.

If a YouTube video is available for download, a small "Download this video" text link will appear below the lower-left corner of the video--directly below the YouTube video play/pause button (see the image above left).  If this video is a paid download, the price to download the file will be included in the text link as well, such as "Download this video ($0.99)." Clicking on the ink opens up a section of the screen that includes download information (such as "High Quality MP4") and a Download button (see the image above right). If a video is free, clicking on the Download button starts the download process. If the video is a paid video, clicking the Download button takes you to a Google Checkout screen.

Downloaded files are in the MP4 file-container format, using the H.264 video and AAC audio codec. Both the free versions of QuickTime and VLC Media Player can play back these video files.

Those content providers who are interested in making their videos available for download on YouTube, can find out more about the "pilot test" here.  Additionally, content providers can learn more about the different creative content licenses options here.

Savvy YouTube users have been able to download virtually any YouTube video using a number of different tools for some time now. For instance, simply pasting in the URL of a YouTube video into TechCrunch's YouTube Video Download Tool allows you to download that video; or installing the Fast Video Download Firefox Add-on lets you download a YouTube video on the page you are presently viewing with a single click. There are many more sites and tools that are capable of downloading YouTube videos. We used the TechCrunch YouTube Video Download Tool to download a video for free that would otherwise have cost $0.99 if downloaded directly from YouTube. The video downloaded as a Flash Video (FLV) file that could be played back in either QuickTime or VLC Media Player. It remains to be seen if YouTube will find a way to stop these third-party video downloads.