Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Universal: If you can't beat them...

The best way to trump piracy is to adopt the same methods pirates use. Steven Soderbergh has tried something like this already with his latest film Bubble by releasing his film in theatres and DVDs simultaneously (which I blogged about here).

Now a major studio is leading the charge. If Universal is successful in offering films for immediate download until their DVD arrives, consumers could eventually see no need to incur risk by using illegal peer-to-peer networks like eDonkey and Limewire, especially if the quality of the download far supasseses most pirated copies. Universal has the right idea in trying to lure moochers back into spending money for entertainment, but their price point is still too high: $35 for a DVD??? WTF? Um, no thanks. I can buy an hour of Lost or Battlestar Galactica off of iTunes for $2. And new DVDs are only $25. Maybe DVDs are just studidly expensive in Britain. Most everything else is in Europe.

And, unlike Soderburgh, it seems as if Universal's films will only be available for download on the day the DVDs have been released, instead of the day that their films are released in theatres. So Universal isn't truly at the cutting edge here. Still, nice try. The wind is certainly changing.

Coming soon: Download-to-own films
Friday, March 24, 2006; Posted: 8:47 a.m. EST (13:47 GMT)

LONDON, England -- Universal Pictures and the online rental firm Lovefilm are launching what they say is the world's first download-to-own movie service in Britain next month.

Starting with "King Kong" on April 10, the companies say the new service will let people watch the latest movies on their laptops, home computers or hand-held devices while on the move.

Currently, films can be legally downloaded only for a short rental period, but this is the first legitimate means of downloading and owning a movie release, the UK's Press Association reported.

"Download-to-own has the potential to completely revolutionize the way people watch movies," PA quoted Peter Smith, president of Universal Pictures International, as saying.

Films will be available to download the same day the DVD is released. Consumers will get the film in three formats: two digital files available for instant download—one for a PC or laptop and one for a portable device—and a DVD copy sent by mail.

Initially, 35 Universal films will be available, including "Pride And Prejudice," "The Bourne Supremacy," "Love Actually," "Nanny McPhee" and "Bridget Jones."

They will be priced from £19.99 ($35) for the latest releases to £9.99 ($17.50) for older films. Downloading a film will take between 40 minutes and an hour.

"The time is only 12–18 months away when you will be able to put the kettle on, get the kids ready and then have a great movie ready to watch," Lovefilm chief executive Mark Livingstone told PA.

Eventually all 6,500 movies in the Universal catalogue could be made available for downloading, PA reported.

The films will be available on the Lovefilm and AOL Web sites. AOL, like CNN, is owned by Time Warner.

New films will be available at midnight on the day of release—meaning consumers could be watching a DVD on a hand-held device on their train journey to work before stores have opened.

Security measures will make it impossible to e-mail the film to somebody else.

"Consumers are becoming more and more demanding. They want quality products and more accessibility," said Eddie Cunningham, chairman of Universal Pictures UK.

"This service offers instant access and flexibility for consumers to watch films wherever they like."

Universal's research showed that 12- to 18-year-olds in particular are keen to watch films on their laptops or portable devices.

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