RealTime IT News

Movielink Picks Microsoft, RealNetworks

Proving that it's not prone to taking sides where digital media is concerned, Movielink, which offers consumers movie rentals via the Internet, chose bitter rivals Microsoft and RealNetworks as technology providers.

The Santa Monica, Calif., concern tabbed Microsoft's popular Windows Media Digital Rights Management (DRM) for secure access, as well as the Redmond, Wash. firm's Windows Media 9 Audio and Video technology. Movielink's DRM software, one of which Microsoft will supply, will allow a customer to choose the desired viewing format of a movie.

In a sharp reminder that the battle for digital media supremacy is indeed a two-horse race, Movielink said it chose similar products from Microsoft's cross-state rivals, Seattle's RealNetworks. Movielink will sport RealNetworks' DRM platform Media Commerce Suite along with RealVideo and RealOne Player to provide customers with secure movie downloads. As with the Microsoft agreement, RealNetworks will supply one of Movielink's DRM products to allow a customer to choose the desired viewing format of a film.

Both Microsoft and RealNetworks stressed that only those consumers who have purchased the right to play licensed material from Movielink's content partners, including founders AOL Time Warner, Vivendi Universal, Sony, Viacom's Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, will be able to access films. Both also stressed that their media players will be compatible with the Movielink service, and that consumers will be able to play, pause, stop, fast forward and rewind movies they select.

Movielink CEO Jim Ramo said: "Windows Media technology enables Movielink's customers to easily rent and view encrypted digital versions of movies on their computers," while noting that "RealNetworks has one of the most heavily developed and advanced encoding and player systems in the market and is committed to the secure delivery of our content over the Internet with its DRM technology, Media Commerce Suite."

The selection of digital media products from both companies reaffirms the industry's perception of their domination -- so much so that such deals are rarely exclusive to either Microsoft or RealNetworks. Simply, if a firm seeks to deliver media somehow, chances are better than average that they will select both Windows and Real.

Movielink, who tabbed IBM for Web site hosting capabilities in September, is on the cusp of launching its touted subscription service. However, its entrenchment with the major movie studios has led competitors-to-be, such as Intertainer, to file suit.

In September, Intertainer sued the motion picture arms of AOL Time Warner, Vivendi Universal and Sony, claiming that they conspired to boost prices on Intertainer's movie licensing deals with them in order to give an unfair advantage to MovieLink. Hence, anti-competitive sentiments lie at the heart of the matter, and Intertainer shuttered its Web site and slashed its staff the following month.

While Intertainer has raised a ruckus, other rivals are soldiering on for the moment, seemingly undaunted by Movielink's industry heft. CinemaNow has recently inked content deals with Universal Studios and Warner Home Video.

Analysts remain skeptical about the commercial viability of such ventures.

Steve Vonder Haar, lead analyst and founder of Interactive Media Strategies, isn't so sure that piracy is the main barrier to consumer embrace for online movie rentals. Vonder Haar isn't convinced that folks will want to watch movies en masse on their PCs. To that end, he suspects Movielink will have a tough time gaining traction.

"People don't think of the PC as an entertainment tool," Vonder Haar told internetnews.com. "It's a productivity tool."