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Google Play mulls movie sales

Google execs have spoken to some of the film studios about offering Android users the option to buy titles, sources tell CNET. The formerly named Android Market currently offers rentals.

When you rent a movie on Play Movies, it immediately becomes available on any device.

Managers at Google Play are considering a plan to sell films, multiple sources have told CNET.

Google Play, formerly known as Android Market, only rents movies now, but the company has shown an interest in giving owners of Android handhelds the option to buy, according to multiple film industry sources.

One reason why Google Play is likely to make the move is that some of the big Hollywood studios may have required Google to commit to sales as a condition for getting access to rentals, the sources said. One of the industry insiders said Google could begin selling titles as early as the summer.

Meanwhile, Google Play also appears to be preparing to upgrade some of the features in its music area, including a rejiggering of song displays and ways to organize libraries, according to the blog Google Operating System. A Google spokeswoman said the company does not comment on rumor or speculation.

What does all this mean? Google Play is on the move. Two weeks ago, Google overhauled Android Market, which not only included a new name but managers also decided to fold Google eBookstore and Google Music into Play. Android Market's struggles to entice users to buy are well-documented but there were also signs that the store's content strategy needed a tune-up.

Google likely wants to get this right. Smartphone owners have come to expect their handhelds to be mini entertainment hubs as well as communication devices. Apple's iTunes has proven mobile platforms can be gold mines.

If Google decides to sell films, it would only be an incremental move for both the studios and Google Play. The sources I spoke with said that Android's tremendous user adoption could make the company a powerful film retailer -- someday. Right now, movie sales on Android devices are tiny, said the sources. One of the hurdles Google faces is that the market for watching movies on mobile devices isn't large to begin with and Google doesn't offer an easy way to transfer films purchased on handhelds to television sets.

What Google has going for it, besides an enormously popular mobile operating system, is that the film industry really wants retail partners to push sales over rentals. For those who do, Hollywood has shown a willingness to make concessions.

Hollywood has tried numerous times to persuade Netflix to sell movies but the Web's top rental service has always declined. Yet, Netflix did agree to try to help boost disc sales in 2010 by holding back on renting new releases for 30 days. In exchange, the studios gave Netflix access to more content.

Sure, lots of you -- the tech literate -- may not have any use for ownership or DVDs, but there are plenty of people around the country who still know no other way or who prefer collecting DVDs. Hollywood wants a crack at selling titles to these people as they move online and that's why there's an electronic sell-through window where new releases are available only for purchase.

At the moment, Google Play doesn't seem to be hurting for new titles to rent. Available now are recent Oscar nominees "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" starring Daniel Craig and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy."