A Boost For Legal Movie Downloads

DVD, against computer gradient background AP

Online movie service CinemaNow Inc. will begin selling movies for downloading and viewing on standard DVD players, marking a first for mainstream films bought over the Internet.

The "Burn to DVD" service was to debut Wednesday with more than 100 movies, including "Scent of a Woman," "About a Boy," "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" and "Barbershop."

"Our customers will experience a true innovation in home entertainment, the ability to obtain a DVD in the comfort of their living room," said Curt Marvis, CinemaNow's chief executive.

Hollywood studios have been reluctant to offer movies for at-home DVD copying because of piracy concerns. But the development of more secure technology has eased those fears.

"The studios were pretty rigorous in their need to have very strong encryption," Marvis said.

CinemaNow said studios initially licensed only a limited number of films.

"It's a test of the distribution and the security architecture," said Benjamin Feingold, president of Sony's home entertainment division.

He expects more films to be offered if users find the system easy to use and if the copy-protection is successful at thwarting pirates.

Hollywood is looking toward digital distribution as a way to generate revenue amid rising manufacturing and retail costs.

"It is a big deal that the studios are going to do this because they're all very interested on electronic sell-through," said Josh Bernoff, digital video analyst for Forrester Research.

"It has some challenges, but it's a much cheaper way to distribute content," he said.

A separate Web site run by CinemaNow has been offering the DVD download option for adult films since May.

CinemaNow will sell the mainstream films starting at $8.99. The offerings will contain all the features of its store-bought counterpart, including boosted sound settings, interactive menus, deleted scenes, commentaries and other extras, Marvis said.

Consumers can transfer only one copy of the movie to a DVD, which will be near the quality of a retail DVD, the company said. The service will also allow consumers to view the movies on their computer with video software like Windows Media Player.

Initially, the DVD service will not offer any first-run movies for purchase, which is likely to dull its prospects in the near term, Bernoff said.

"The choice of movies here is, shall we say, underwhelming," he said.

"It's a step in the right direction, but I don't think it's a fair test because you'd have to have a whole lot more selection, even of library movies," he said.

Marvis expects first-run movies to be added later.

The lack of selection will likely keep CinemaNow and other video-on-demand services behind traditional DVD retailers for a while, said Steve Swasey, a spokesman for Netflix Inc.

"Until the title selection is significant so that the majority of the people are interested, it's going to be a very niche and small market that does not take off," Swasey said.

Among the major Hollywood film distributors providing content for the service are The Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Sony Corp.'s Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, MGM Worldwide Digital Media and Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Independents Lionsgate, EagleVision and Sundance Channel have also licensed films for home download and transfer to DVD.

CinemaNow rival Movielink announced Monday it has licensed technology to offer DVD downloads but has yet to launch such a service.

The CinemaNow burning technology is based on fluxDVD, which was developed by Dortmund, Germany's ACE GmbH. Movielink's technology partner is Marin-based Sonic Solutions.
  • Joel Roberts

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