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National Geographic Bows Online DVD Rental Service

7 Feb, 2005 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Seeking to target fans of adventure, exploration, science and history films and documentaries, National Geographic Home Entertainment, in association with CafeDVD.com, today went live with online DVD rental service, MovieVoyager.com.

The service claims about 7,000 titles — including several hundred from National Geographic — that have been laboriously reviewed by Geographic’s TV programming research department for “historical and cultural significance.”

Voyager, which features requisite no late fees, return dates, long-term contracts and free shipping — an industry standard from pioneer service Netflix — is available in several price points.

Following a two-week free trial membership, users with a credit card can opt either for one title per week for $3; two rentals at a time per month ($12.99); three rentals for $18.99; and $23.99 for four titles at a time per month.

The nonsubscription $3 per title rental plan does not include return shipping charges, which range from $2.49 to $3.49 for up to four titles per order.

Only nonsubscription users, however, earn 15 points per title and qualify for a free rental with 300 points.

“We [try to] excite people to explore their world,” said William Weil, SVP of marketing and business development for National Geographic Television & Film. “There are a lot of movies out there that do that, and we want to provide a service to people who want to better understand their world. This is just a different way of doing that.”

Weil said “a whole lot of time” is put into reviewing each title on the site — a feature he said separates the service from the competition.

“We are very thoughtful about the process,” he said. “We have very specific discussions about the kinds of titles we make and don’t make it.”

Weil said films offered on Voyager must include three criteria: a basis in historical fact, such as Warner Home Video’s Gettysburg and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s Glory; appreciation of foreign cultures or environments as in Whale Rider (Sony); or a great sense of place, such as Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s Lost in Translation.

“A film that didn’t make the selection may have been a great dramatic story between characters, but it was less about the historical, cultural or place,” he said.

Caf? DVD in Sunnyvale, Calif., will handle fulfillment, financial transactions and back-end infrastructure for Voyager.

“Everything but marketing and [National Geographic] content,” said Caf? co-founder Sungho Kim.

The company — started a year after Netflix — targets online rental distribution of arthouse, documentary, independent and mainstream fare, including Spider-Man.

“Just for laughs, that [title] will be available,” Kim said.

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