Movies on demand coming to PC near you
By John Yaukey
Gannett News Service
Tired of driving to Blockbuster only to find your secret parking space is filled and the movie you want is out?
Movies on demand downloading films over the Internet is supposed to eliminate that.
And indeed, there are several deals in the works aimed at giving consumers the ability to watch what they want when they want via the Web:
Six major film studios (MGM, Viacom, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Studios and Warner Bros.) recently announced plans to offer movies on demand starting early next year.
Not to be outdone, Disney has teamed up with News Corp. to form Movies.com, also intended to deliver films over the Web starting early next year.
On a smaller scale, CinemaNow announced that it's offering "genre" films and older releases over the Internet.
But before you chuck your Blockbuster card, take a good strong reality check.
Entertainment industry analysts generally agree that getting movies over the Internet is the wave of the future. But until significant technological hurdles are overcome, it's not going to be the kind of service average consumers are going to find especially friendly or practical.
"First and foremost, you really need broadband (high-speed Internet) to do this," said CinemaNow CEO Curt Marvis.
Downloading a full-length feature over a fast broadband connection at 1 megabit per second (Mbps) takes about 30 minutes. Over a slow broadband connection of 128 kilobits per second (Kbps), it could take hours. Over a dial-up connection, it could take the better part of a day.
And unless you've got the special converter necessary to connect your PC to your TV, you're going to have to watch the movie on your PC.
"Let's face it, watching movies on your PC is not a great experience," said P.J. McNealy, who analyzes digital content for the Gartner Dataquest research firm, which is preparing a major report on video on demand.
Still, it's good enough for some, and that's why the studios are trying to get a handle on the Web movie market early. The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that as many as 400,000 bootlegged films are illegally traded on the Internet daily. The longer studios wait to activate their own digital distribution streams, the less control they're going to have over their own content.
For the early adopters out there, here's how the new services are generally expected to work:
Movies will cost about $4, roughly the same as they do through satellite and cable pay-per-view services.
Consumers will download an encrypted, compressed file containing the digitized movie onto their hard drives. Once the file is opened, the buyer will have 24 or 48 hours to view it using one of the various media players such as Real Player by RealNetworks or Microsoft's Media Player.
New releases are expected to be available on demand about the same time they hit the pay-per-view circuit or about a month after they appear on the shelves at Blockbuster.