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April 3, 2006

Download Movies to Own, Sort Of

Several studios announced that they were going to sell movies to own via the web through a co-owned site, Movielink.com.  This is a tentative first step towards online distribution of significant visual content.  Certainly Apple's iTunes store is selling videos, albeit in a tiny screen format designed for the iPod.  This is the first time, however, that major film studios have agreed to let content flow to a consumer's desktop (or laptop) without the film expiring.

However, paranoia does run deep with film executives.  There are strings attached to the sales.  One is that there is lots and lots of DRM associated with the files.  Films may be owned by the consumer, but, depending on the film, they can't transfer them from place to place.  Movielink terms state that the movie files can be copied to DVD as a backup but only for playback on the same computer that initiated the download. Otherwise some movies can be transferred to a total of 3 PCs.  That grant is in the download agreement on a per film basis.

There are other restrictions, such as requiring the Movielink Manager to run on the target machine.  The software runs continuously in the background and requires some regular Internet access.  The faq at the site indicates that there is no spyware or adware associated with the program, but if you want movies this way, you have to have it.  TV viewing is available if you can connect a television set to your computer.

The downside of this is the size of these files.  A typical digital film on DVD is anywhere from 3 to 8 gigabytes in size.  Aside from the download time involved even with broadband, a hard drive can fill up fast with purchased content.  Sure there's cheap hard drive space out there, say 400 gigabytes from $200 on up, but that's an expense no one has to make just to watch movies.  This is especially true when downloads are priced about the same as discs, between $10 and $30. 

While movie studios are putting their toes in the digital water with this new capability, it's actually easier and cheaper to buy the disc.  You can play it anywhere except where region codes get in the way.  You can also enjoy 5.1 surround sound as well.  That doesn't seem to be there with downloads.  At the very least, the only audio connections described on the site appear to be stereo, and that's in passing.

By the way, King Kong was selling for $19.99 as a download as of this writing.  As of yesterday, Wal-Mart had the disc on sale for $14.87 as an introductory special.  Do movie executives understand the economics of these things?

Visit Movielink here.

April 3, 2006 | Permalink

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