In an arrangement with a Pennsylvania company, a major Hollywood studio will begin an experiment next week making full-length feature films available for download over the Internet.
On Jan. 22, Miramax will allow its 1999 release Guinevere, starring Sarah Polley and Stephen Rea, to be downloaded for $3.49 for a 24-hour viewing license. The 500 megabyte file will take about 30 minutes to download over a high-speed Internet connection.
Movie studios are struggling to develop an Internet strategy, hoping to have workable alternatives available before a Napster-like program makes swapping pirated films as easy as downloading the latest Britney Spears ballad. Last year, the studios succeeded in shutting down Scour.com, a file-sharing Web site that allowed people to swap digitized films.
Many Companies Are Experimenting
Earlier experiments with producing original short films and animation for the Internet failed, leaving studios wondering how to use the new technology while protecting their valuable copyrights.
Miramax Films, a unit of The Walt Disney Co. (parent company of ABCNEWS), signed a deal in April 2000 with Mount Lebanon, Pa.-based SightSound.com to offer 12 full-length feature films on the Web. The arrangement is an experiment to see how and if consumers will be willing to view downloaded films on a pay-per-view basis.
Other studios have been exploring a video-on-demand strategy, making movies available over high-speed cable television lines or over private networks.
Video rental chain Blockbuster Inc. is testing a private network it established with the Enron Corp. to stream movies, many from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, from a central computer — a plan many in Hollywood prefer because it keeps them in control of their intellectual property.
And Sony Pictures will soon announce its own video-on-demand service.
With the Miramax deal, SightSound is providing encryption and using Microsoft Corp.'s video compression technology to shrink the massive computer files to a more manageable size. The company already has movies for download on its Web site and last year introduced what it billed as the first movie made exclusively for the Internet.
Movie Sent Via E-Mail
"The closed proprietary video-on-demand systems are capital intensive and will take a long time to deploy and they won't deploy worldwide," Scott Sander, chief executive officer of SightSound.com, said. "SightSound's approach is to leverage open access to the Internet."
The digital version of Guinevere will play on home computers full-screen in near-DVD quality, Sander said. The movie can be found on three Web sites beginning Jan. 22.
After the license expires, the downloaded file will be useless. A copy of the movie sent via e-mail or copied to a mobile storage device also will not play, even with a valid license.
"There's all this fear and loathing in Hollywood of the Internet," Sander said. "Miramax chairmen Bob and Harvey Weinstein have stepped up to the plate and decided to provide some leadership and say, essentially, 'We're going to fight fire with fire. If this is how people want to get movies, we're going to give it to them legit."'