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Starz to Offer Web Movies

4 Jan, 2006 By: Holly J. Wagner

Executives at Starz Entertainment Group are hoping their one-two punch of PPV movie rights and an IP video-on-demand (VOD) service will help position the network to offer downloads to burn as soon as the major studios are ready to offer them.

While they don't expect to be the only company offering downloads to own (Cinemanow already offers limited content on a download-to-own basis), they want Starz on the front line.

“Our position to the studios is that we are already online,” said Bob Greene, SVP of advanced services for Starz.

Wal-Mart is online as well and has urged studios to offer burn-to-order DVDs from in-store kiosks. But studios have been reluctant to move away from the prerecorded model.

Meanwhile, Starz's Vongo subscription download service delivers movies, concerts and other video content over the Internet for playback on Windows-based PCs, laptops, TVs and some portable media devices. Subscribers can choose which three devices they would like to use to access the content on each account.

Established legal download services Movielink and Cinemanow operate almost exclusively as a la carte download services. Greene said Starz's edge is exclusive rights to offer the content by subscription over the Internet.

Starz is following the legalized Napster subscription model, offering unlimited downloads from its 1,000-title collection for $9.99 a month. Like Napster, when the subscriber stops paying, the downloads stop playing. The downloads also expire when Starz's rights to sell them expire.

Vongo also will offer PPV movies for $3.99 per film, but Greene is adamant that a subscription model is the future, citing Netflix pressure on traditional rental that forced Blockbuster to offer subscriptions as well.

Plans are for the service to offer bonus features from a DVD-like menu that lets users download the features they want.

“It'll have a lot of bonus materials, as much as we can find and provide — directors' cuts, outtakes,” Greene said. “You'll be able to say, ‘I want to see those bloopers' and just download that. You'll be able to see them and choose which ones you want, then watch them as they are downloading and decide whether to keep them or delete them.”

Starz also is working with Apple Computer to improve the company's digital rights management (DRM) to pass muster with gun-shy studios and accommodate subscription sales.

“We are designed to work on a Mac platform,” Greene said. “We need to work with Apple on their DRM. Their DRM right now does not handle subscription, and they know that.”

He'd also like to be part of a superrelease revolution, if same-day release across platforms, or superrelease, happens. Studios are still reluctant to tamper too much with windows.

“That's a new model for them,” Greene said. “The best thing I can say is that nobody at a studio gets promoted for taking a risk.” Nonetheless, he said, Starz has discussed the possibilities with major studios, as well as with mavericks Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, who have announced plans to test superreleases starting this month.

Greene would not elaborate on a partnership with Sony Connect that will make Vongo a part of its new Connect Video service to be launched later this year.

He said Starz Ticket, launched in 2004 with RealNetworks Inc., will continue as a service, but that the focus for Starz will be on Vongo.

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