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"Downloadable Movies?"

Until recently, the movie studios have assumed they were immune to the distribution of their copyrighted materials. Unlike music, which can be compressed to just a couple of megabytes (MB) of data, a movie would need a minimum of 650MB, and even then, the quality of the movie is well under the standards we have become accustomed to. A 650MB file would take several days to download over a 56K dial-up connection, not to mention the space required on an Internet server to store it. With all things considered, it appeared the movie studios were probably safe for awhile, but greater broadband Internet connections and improved compression technologies are quickly removing the barriers for movie distribution on the Internet.

Recently, a French film buff and a German computer hacker jointly developed a new video compression technology based on the MPEG 4 standard, called DivX, a name that is a reference to the failed Circuit City attempt to sell a DVD rental system. By combining DivX with DeCSS (a program used for removing the copy protection from DVDs), hackers are forcing the motion picture industry to face the same issues the recording industry has faced with programs like Napster. In other words, what will they do about the Internet's ability to distribute their copyrighted material to the masses for free?

Because of the attention it has received from Internet web sites and the press, movie studios are suddenly jumping on the Internet in an attempt to impede the spread of their materials. Interestingly, rather than fighting the use of the DivX software like the recording industry has chosen to do with software like Napster, they are instead planning on offering Internet distribution to their customers believing that they could circumvent the need for a consumer to download from non-paying sites.

There are several studios and groups that are planning their strategies for the Web delivery of their movies. For instance, Sony Pictures Entertainment is preparing a trial, at the end of this year, that will test the ability to securely download movies to a personal computer. At this time, they have not given any details on how they will offer the movies, but the company is working with Image Works in California to develop software for secure downloading.

Another venture that has been attracting attention is an offering by Blockbuster and Enron. What makes it interesting is that Blockbuster is going to not only provide a place to download the movies, but will also provide the high-speed access demanded for such applications. Their plan is to offer DSL service to the 65 million households they currently have as a customer base along with an entertainment on-demand service. Beginning in 2001, Blockbuster expects to extend the service to other domestic and international markets. The service will be expanded to other entertainment choices, including games and Internet services, which can be accessed either through the television or PC.

The movie industry is on record as saying they believe they are different from the music world because of the way consumers look at them. They insist that individuals feel they have the right to enjoy music free of charge while looking at movies as a pay only service. We'll be watching to see if they were correct.

  - by Clayton Crooks

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