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The Virtual Envelope, Please!

11 Feb, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

So, Oscar season has officially arrived with yesterday's announcements of Academy Award nominees for the year.

Most people had to see those films on the big screen, but the Academy management knows that not every member gets to every film, so they make sure to send out DVD screeners to voting members to be sure they can watch the movies.

A number of those screeners – ranging from About Schmidt and The Hours to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Catch Me If You Can are available on eBay right now. Most of them at starting prices that would make Wal-Mart blush.

For today I'm just going to abbreviate my harangue on how the Hollywood antipiracy folks are looking for solutions in all the wrong places and skip to the constructive suggestion.

Like Movielink, the online video-on-download (VOD that's still not quite on-demand) service that five of the major studios launched late last year.

While not all consumers live in wired homes and with broadband connections and kabillion-gigabyte computers, I suspect most Academy members do.

So Academy screeners seem like the logical place to start for seeding the service and building a base of evangelists.

What if, instead of sending those DVD screeners that apparently are so hard to contain and control, the studios opened a password-protected section of Movielink for just the industry and let voting Academy members download their screeners – free copies that would self-destruct in 24 hours?

Another option would be Flexplay Technologies' expiring DVD. The MTV Latin America music video awards used the discs as party favors to offer guests a taste of the nominees' work.

I suspect that would prevent a fair amount of piracy. Surely it would help keep the still-theatrical titles from showing up on eBay (not to mention the plethora of lesser-known auction sites).

It's tough to say how well Movielink is catching on with ordinary consumers. Using it as in industry intranet could squeeze enough benefit out of the R&D to make the site worthwhile in the short term, while the industry waits for consumers to embrace downloading entertainment on a wide scale.

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