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Movielink, CinemaNow Bow Download-to-Own Major Releases

3 Apr, 2006 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Brokeback Mountain

The movie-download floodgates have been opened.

Movielink April 3 announced it would offer for the first time select titles for download purchase the same day they street on DVD, including the April 4 release of Oscar-winner Brokeback Mountain.

CinemaNow — founded in 1999 by Lionsgate, Blockbuster, and Microsoft, among other investors — will launch a download-to-own service April 4.

Four-year-old Movielink April 11 will offer Fun With Dick and Jane, starring Jim Carey, and April 25 Aeon Flux with Charlize Theron the same day the DVDs street.

New-release download purchases range in price from $20 to $30; catalog titles, from $10 to $16. A download includes the ability to transfer the movie to two other PCs and burn it to a DVD (in Windows Media), which is not playable in a standard DVD player.

Other major title download options are Pride & Prejudice; King Kong; Good Night, and Good Luck; Memoirs of a Geisha; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The Weather Man. Classic titles include Easy Rider, East of Eden, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Sting.

“This is a big deal,” said Jim Ramo, CEO of Los Angeles-based Movielink, which is a joint venture of MGM Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Studios and Warner Bros.

“We are starting to see the opening of day-and-date releases [on DVD and electronically] from the studios,” he said.

Movielink announced March 31 it would also offer titles from Twentieth Century Fox Entertainment.

"Twentieth Century Fox is committed to meeting the demands of today's movie consumer, and we are excited about the opportunity to offer our films for permanent digital download," said Peter Levinsohn, president of digital media and pay television for 20th Century Fox. “We are thrilled that Movielink is driving this evolution, and that our Academy Award-winning film, Walk the Line, is among the first films that will be available."

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment chief Benjamin Feingold, whose title now expands to president of worldwide home entertainment, digital distribution and acquisitions, said users will be able to download an initial slate of 75 titles from the Sony Pictures and MGM libraries, including Hitch, Spider-Man 2 and Barbershop.

“Our intention is to build the business, so holding titles back is not part of our strategy,” said Feingold. “There's a big expansion of PCs, laptops and mobile devices coming, and some people may choose digital delivery as a new way of viewing content. We want to embrace that.”

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group last week announced it would release in Holland and Belgium Goblet of Fire for download-to-own April 4 to coincide with the title's DVD release in those countries. The studio has a license agreement with Dutch-based online service Free Record Shop to offer about 100 new and catalog titles.

Universal Pictures previously announced it would offer movie purchase downloads in the United Kingdom, beginning with King Kong.

Movielink primarily has offered rental downloads, with the exception of select direct-to-video titles the service offered in order to test its purchase link.

“With movie downloads-to-own, we think digital delivery has really arrived,” Ramo said. “I think we have become confident about Internet security and more confident about the economics of digital distribution.”

Safa Rashtchy, senior media research analyst with Piper Jaffray in Menlo Park, Calif., said it is premature to pinpoint one delivery channel as the next big thing. He believes Internet-based rental services such as Netflix and Blockbuster Online will continue to dominate in the short term.

“We are on the verge of a new era in the way people will consume electronic entertainment,” Rashtchy said. “We will see a number of new initiatives. Some will gain momentum, some will totally go away, and others will stay and become niche services.”

Movielink's Ramo doesn't dispute that most people like to watch movies on a TV. He said the service is in the process of finalizing deals with RCA and Akimbo to provide set-top boxes that would deliver broadband content over a TV.

“We think it is just a matter of time that digital delivery and secure home networking is going to get us to the TV,” Ramo said. “In the meantime, this service is for people who are interested in much more of a personalized viewing experience than a communal viewing experience.”

Thomas K. Arnold contributed to this story.

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