YouTube rolls out download feature on Barack Obama channel

  • Chicago (IL) - Barack Obama, the first African American President in the U.S. history, is scheduled to become sworn today at noon EST. He also appeared to have found some spare time to roll out a new YouTube feature that finally lets people legally download YouTube videos to their computers. Sort of. Google has actually chosen Barack Obama's YouTube channel as an exclusive test ground for the download feature that may or may not eventually apply to entire YouTube content when it's rolled out officially. The choice of Obama's channel is not coincidental: With today's inauguration, traffic on Obama's channel would go through the roof - a real test for the download feature.

    Yes, there are many browser extensions and desktop tools solemnly dedicated to the easy download and saving of YouTube videos on a computer. Their popularity with millions of users stems from the fact that YouTube has never allowed users to download videos in the first place. The whole point from the outset has always been to stream videos to your computer so that you need to visit the YouTube site even if you just want to play previously viewed video. The approach maximizes YouTube traffic. More traffic equals to more ad displays, translating into a higher ad revenue - at least theoretically.

    But the search giant appears ready to loosen this restrictive video downloading policy a bit. Although the company wouldn't comment officially, there is a new video download link that now appears on certain videos. More specifically, only on videos in the Barack Obama's YouTube channel. If you check out this link, you will notice the "Click to download" link on the left side just bellow the video. Clicking the option will start the download of the currently viewed video immediately. Downloaded video is in the MPEG4 compressed with H.264 coded and appears to be of the same quality as the video played in your browser.

    For now, the download link is limited just to Barack Obama's videos, but it clearly shows that Google is actively testing a new feature on a widely visited channel. Of course, the download feature could be a case of some special deal between Google and Barack Obama's team. In addition, we may not see the feature deployed to all YouTube videos in the foreseeable future - or at all as Google could limit it just to original videos posted by organizations, not individuals, who can prove that their content does not infringe.

    Studios have pointed their finger at Google in the past, arguing that YouTube enables piracy since a browser saves streamed YouTube video as a temporary Internet file, which constitutes as illegal copy of a copyrighted work. Although Google now has a comprehensive audio and video fingerprinting technology that flags copyrighted content so content authors can take it down if they want to, imagine the studio's reaction if YouTube allowed everyone to download millions of problematic videos that briefly go under the radar and contain stuff like the latest music video, TV show episode, etc. It would be chaos.

    Google has been very active with YouTube lately. All throughout 2008 the company has been rolling out minor and sometimes more meaningful tweaks and upgrades. In past couple  of months we have seen significant user interface overhaul, a new muting policy for copyrighted audio, a special YouTube user interface formatted for TV and viewable on PS3 and Wii consoles, push to HD wide-screen content, and others.

    The video sharing site and its parent company Google have also jumped on the political bandwagon to make the most out of Presidential elections. YouTube candidate channels have emerged as an important weapon in the rallying process that has the power to attract millions of both next-generation voters and ordinary ones who just tune in to YouTube from time to time to check out funny videos. Now Google is making even further strides to bank on a sudden, but expected, popularity of YouTube in a political process by offering both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate an equal opportunity to reach out to the public via live YouTube video broadcasts.