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Laptop Flicks

The movie industry seems to have taken heed of the digital debacle facing the music biz and is offering film downloads for a fee Amy Harmon writes in the NY Times:

    The service, called Movielink, will be the first to make a substantial number of popular Hollywood films available legally over the Internet. Industry executives say it is a significant step toward the long-promised bounty of video-on-demand, where anyone with an Internet connection can watch any movie ever made whenever they want.

    But the joint venture faces many hurdles, not least of which is that most people like to watch movies on a television screen from a lounging position, not sitting up staring at a computer monitor. In addition, since the Movielink service was announced in August 2001, increasing numbers of cable and satellite television companies have begun providing video-on-demand services of their own.

    Studio executives struck a cautious tone even as the service prepared to open its doors this week. “Our expectations are fairly modest,” said Yair Landau, president of Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment, who has championed the idea for more than a year. “This service does not transform the world, but it addresses a consumer demand that’s out there.”

    Still, James B. Ramo, the chief executive of Movielink, said there were two main reasons to believe there is a market for the service. The first is that the company’s research shows that movie trailers are the most-watched video material on the Web. The second is the popularity of Internet file-trading software like KaZaA and Morpheus, which people are already using to download unauthorized copies of movies in large numbers.

    “Part of our job is to provide a legitimate outlet for people looking for video in the pirate community,” Mr. Ramo said. “We consider the pirate services our competition.”

    Of the 15 million homes and 10 million dormitory rooms with broadband Internet connections, Mr. Ramo said, roughly one-third are believed to have residents interested in downloading video material. Travelers are another potential audience because Movielink customers can download films onto laptops and watch them on airplanes.

    The site, movielink.com, is like a video store with more efficient search features. Consumers can view trailers of all the movies and create a “wish list” as they browse, then review the list on subsequent visits. Films cost $2.99 to $4.99 for 24 hours of viewing time, generally depending on how recent the film is….

The traveler angle sounds smart – passengers in cars as well, and anywhere portability would be an asset: catch a flick while you’re camping. In any case the film industry seems to have learned from the mistakes of the music industry: it doesn’t go away if you ignore it or threaten it. It goes away (or at least recedes to a dull roar) if you give a viable, appealing option.

    About 175 movies will be available at first, including recent hits like “A Beautiful Mind” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” as well as older titles like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Movielink says the films will take 20 minutes to four hours to download, depending on the speed of the customer’s Internet connection. People with slower dial-up connections are discouraged from using the service.

It’s a start.

About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.well.com/~srhodes Steve Rhodes

    The DVDs below your item show why that service probably won’t do well. Why spend $5 for a not great quality movie for 24 hours when you can rent a DVD for less or buy Sleepless in Seattle for $12.

    It might do better if you could watch the films for 5 days and it was a buck for older films and $2 newer films though even then the quality still wouldn’t be as good as DVD or cable.

  • Eric Olsen

    Steve, I agree that this isn’t all that happening yet, but when the price goes down and the quality goes up it could be. It’s a start.

  • http://www.well.com/~srhodes Steve Rhodes

    It is a start.

    The question is whether the studios will view it as an experiment to learn from or just a way to say they put movies online and it was a failure.

    I still think they should make it cheaper. They are going to lose money. They may as well lose money while introducing the concept of watching films online to a slightly bigger audience.