RealTime IT News

Reaching for Real Starz

Nearly two years after first announcing plans for a video on-demand service, RealNetworks and Starz Encore Group have finally launched a $12.95 a month movie subscription service for broadband users.

The Starz Ticket on Real Movies service will hawk unlimited access to the Starz cable channel's library of movies, as well as a streamed version of the Starz linear service. This is the first time a premium movie channel has been delivered simultaneously over broadband, the companies said in a statement.

The deal has been in the works for more than 18 months and provides a major outlet for RealNetworks to display its Helix DRM technology and new RealPlayer 10 software.

The Seattle-based RealNetworks has already found some success with the subscription-based Rhapsody music service. The plan with Starz is to avoid the a la carte model for selling movie rentals.

According to Starz CEO John Sie, the "all you can eat" subscription model is easier to sell than the transactional pay-per-view option, and it will work well with subscribers' viewing habits.

More importantly, with digital rights management technology, the cable networks and movie studios maintain a measure of control in the ongoing battle against online piracy. The RealNetworks/Starz service will allow paying subscribers to download movies on three computers, enough to offer flexibility for consumers and protection for content owners, the companies explained.

"We have long been opposed to piracy, having seen the havoc it has caused in the music industry. Offering a legal, high-quality, convenient service at a great value is the best way to prevent illegal file sharing and put the movie industry on the right path," Sie added.

At launch, Starz Ticket on Real Movies is only available to U.S. subscribers with a connection speed of at least 600 Kbps. Movie rentals can be streamed to a television in the home via an S-Video cable, and RealNetworks promises fast-forward, rewind and pause features available on regular DVD players. To maximize bandwidth usage, downloads can be scheduled overnight.

The new offering is up against the entrenched MovieLink service, which offers pay-per-transaction movie downloads. MovieLink is backed by a slew of big-name studios, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros.

RealNetworks already provides technology that powers the MovieLink service.