RealTime IT News

Warner Bros. Puts Movie Downloads to the Test

It's somehow appropriate that the first true test in online movie downloads comes from a company synonymous to the Internet -- AOL Time Warner . Time Warner, with its vast movie and music holdings, was infused with "new media" savvy when it merged with America Online last year (if not the profits each expected).

Officials at one of the company's subsidiaries, Warner Bros., announced Tuesday it would put first-run movies on CinemaNow for public download. The licensing deal, the details of which were unannounced, signals a test to determine whether legitimate multimedia downloads are possible in a peer-to-peer (P2P) networking world.

The movies cost $3.99 to download, and must be viewed within 24 hours. After 24 hours, the file is inaccessible. It's a solution designed only for broadband, given the time limit; a person would be lucky to download a 700 MB movie within 24 hours and digital subscriber line service (DSL) itself would take more than two hours.

To date, the movies available at CinemaNow's site could only be charitably be described as "B" movies, with such titles as "Backyard Fight Clubs, Vol. 1," "The Chosen One," starring Carmen Electra and "Spirits," starring Eric Estrada. They're low-risk titles in the event anti-piracy technology is cracked by hackers and disseminated worldwide.

Warner Bros. has raised the stakes, adding two blockbuster hits Tuesday, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone" and "Mars Attacks!" to the CinemaNow download queue.

Bruce Eisen, CinemaNow executive vice president, is anxious to see how the titles fare on his site and how it plays out on the Internet.

"Making major studio content available to download in a secure and legal manner marks a tremendous leap forward for online distribution," he said. "This is an important step to begin assessing both the demand and revenue platforms from this emerging business."

It's a bold step for AOL/TW, given the popularity of P2P networking and the danger of relying on anti-piracy technology to protect the movie files files. It's a safe bet that a security breach in the technology will result in the studio yanking its premium movies from download sites immediately, to prevent the distribution of bootleg copies.

But it's arguably the biggest effort by the entertainment industry to find a legal alternative to file sharing. In the music industry, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is more concerned with shutting down P2P networks, chastising computer makers for selling CD burners and threatening its customers than find a working model.

According to CNN, the contract between Warner Bros. and CinemaNow will run until the end of the year, with the possibility of an extension.

Ironically enough, Microsoft's Windows 2000 OS and SQL Server are the backbone of PatchBay, CinemaNow's distribution technology. The operating system is widely considered an unsecure platform, with the company releasing several critical security patches to the software in recent times.