Movie Studios Offer Downloadable Films

Now playing on a PC near you: downloadable movies available for purchase
on the same day they’re released on DVD.

But movie fans will have to decide whether the convenience of quick
access to the latest films compensates for higher costs and strict digital
rights management restrictions.

The downloadable movies will cost up to twice as much as the DVD
versions — $20 to $30 for the newest titles — and are only viewable via a
personal computer running Microsoft operating systems and software. And don’t look too closely for the extra features typically added to DVDs.

Previously the only film downloads that major studios offered were online
rentals, which can only be watched for a 24-hour period. But on Monday,
Movielink began offering nearly 300 films for purchase.

Movielink is a joint
venture among Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures
Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros.

Another site, CinemaNow, is also selling downloadable versions of
about 75 movies from Sony, MGM and Lions Gate, which is a large
shareholder of CinemaNow.

“With more than 25 million broadband residences, we believe the market is
now ready for the launch of a new Internet movie rental service,” Movielink
CEO Jim Ramo said in a statement. “We are combining cutting-edge technology
with the best in motion picture entertainment to offer consumers an exciting
entertainment experience.”

“Cutting edge” is up for debate.

Movielink doesn’t support Macintosh or Linux users. Movie downloads are offered in RealNetworks RealPlayer 8.0 and
Microsoft Windows Media Player formats and can run only on Windows.

Nor does Movielink work with
Web browsers other than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which is likely to
aggravate the presumably important tech-savvy early adopter market, a user population that tends to prefer the Firefox and Opera browsers.

The licensing rights allow users to use their digital downloads on up to
three computers and create a backup DVD. Downloaded movies
can be viewed only on PCs, unless consumers opt to connect their PCs to their

“Finding ways to keep track of content is important, but this doesn’t
necessarily mean locking it up,” said Mike McGuire, vice president of
research with Gartner Industries Media Team.

“This offering needs usage rules that are closer to what iTunes is doing
with TV shows. The challenge then becomes not keeping honest people honest,
but rather looking for the bad actors out there.”

CinemaNow’s site and product offerings have much the same restrictions as
MovieLink with support only for computers running Microsoft’s software, but
the company does provide a handy guide to hooking PCs
up to the TV.

Some of the digital downloads also lack the special features that are
often offered with DVD versions.

For example, Memoirs of a Geisha costs $16.96 on and includes a dozen in-depth featurettes on the life, history and style of geishas. Movielinks’ digital download is $25.99 and doesn’t offer the features.

Consumers will have to check digital versions against the physical (DVD)
versions to gauge what features their desired downloads may be missing.

“If they [the studios] aren’t careful they’re going to get bypassed,”
said McGuire. “Technology providers are making it easy to get content
off hard drives and onto big screens. You’ve got to wonder what the studios
are doing. Today’s consumers are expecting a much higher degree of

“Frankly, these kinds of hurdles don’t make consumers feel particularly
excited by offerings coming form conventional studios.”

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