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Monday, April 30, 2007

Two blog posts worth a look

- Kara Swisher of the Wall Street Journal on whether Hollywood gets the Net, and will be able to produce hits in the new medium:

    ...there is little on YouTube and many other sites on the Web now that could ever gross what the next “Harry Potter” movie will, but what is there definitely costs a lot less, is improving in quality quickly and will eventually (remember, these are the first innings) yield just the kind of hit that Hollywood loves. I am betting that hit will not be from Hollywood.

Many of the earliest Net hits ("This Land," "Evolution of Dance") haven't been from Hollywood. But look what happens when a big Hollywood star like Will Ferrell makes a video and puts it on the Net. Instantly, a skillion views. Don't count Hollywood (or rather, don't count Hollywood creatives) out.

- Om Malik on "Why Hollywood Suddenly Loves Tech." As DVD sales stall, Hollywood is looking to digital downloads as a savior, Om theorizes.

Partially true, but they still are trying to stick with DVD pricing... and make any company that wants to distribute their content make all sorts of revenue guarantees about how many downloads they're gonna sell.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Catching up: New set-top box, new projectors, Sony 4K push

- The NY Times has the first major story about Vudu, a new set-top box from a Silicon Valley start-up. Every studio except for Sony is supplying content. Brad Stone writes:

    Vudu, if all goes as planned, hopes to turn America’s televisions into limitless multiplexes, providing instant gratification for movie buffs. It has built a small Internet-ready movie box that connects to the television and allows couch potatoes to rent or buy any of the 5,000 films now in Vudu’s growing collection. The box’s biggest asset is raw speed: the company says the films will begin playing immediately after a customer makes a selection.

The gadget blog Gizmodo has more, including photos of the device.

I still think Apple TV is the technology to beat, in terms of connecting broadband content to the TV. Apple has distribution (its network of stores), a payment mechanism people are used to (the iTunes Store), and a decent content library (though Vudu seems to be a strong challenger here). Vudu's main advantage, at least at first glance: speedier downloads, and the ability to start watching a movie just a few seconds after the click.

- The Times also has a piece looking at the growing number of LED-based pocket projectors. Useful for PowerPoint presentations, gaming, or anytime, anywhere movie-viewing.

- The Washington Post writes about Sony's efforts to establish their 4K digital projectors as the premium digital cinema experience.

Here's a cool idea, Sony: what if you put up on the Web a single page that listed all the places that people could see 4K cinema in action (I know there are a few in Landmark Theatres, but their site doesn't tell you which locations.) Texas Instruments has done this for years to promote their DLP projectors.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wednesday links: Cinemark goes public, Jaman offers Tribeca fare, Chad Hurley writes for Forbes

- Cinemark Holdings, the third-biggest theater operator in the US, went public yesterday. An IPO for AMC, the second-largest, is on the way.

- Six films screening at the Tribeca Film Festival will be available for free download on, for seven days. Variety's Adam Dawtrey writes, "Deal is believed to mark the first time a major festival will have given online exposure to part of its full-length feature program at the same time the movies unspool at the fest."

- YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley has a piece in Forbes on the site's impact on the entertainment industry. He calls YouTube "the ultimate audition venue," continuing:

    YouTube is more than a library of clips. It's also a network of audience members who engage content in a different way than previously possible and spread success stories by word of mouth. Some rise to fame because of one viral hit, others build a consistent following over time.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Variety's Home Entertainment Quarterly

Variety's quarterly report on home entertainment has a bunch of neat-o tech stories, including lots on Blu-ray versus HD DVD, a piece about VOD and digital downloads, and hacking copy protection.

I've got two pieces in the section: one is a look back at the ten years that the DVD format has been with us, headlined, 'How DVDs became a success,' and the other is a look at whether we could've avoided the Blu-ray/HD DVD stand-off.

My favorite quotes from that first piece are toward the end:

    Many homevid vets don't believe that discs -- whether standard or high-definition -- will be replaced by digital delivery anytime soon.

    "I'd be surprised if, four years from now, downloading of movies by consumers represents more than 7% of the total consumer spending on home entertainment," says Bo Andersen, president of the Entertainment Merchants Assn.

    Lieberfarb agrees that discs won't be let go of easily: "There is a reluctance to experiment with transformative models, for fear that it'll cannibalize revenues in the short run."

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Pixar's Originality ... New Products Announced by Red ... Record Budgets

- I really enjoyed this NY Times piece about Pixar's commitment to making original movies, rather than churning out easy-to-market sequels. From Michael Cieply's story:

    “It takes a lot more work,” Richard Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, said of the effort to introduce original films. “The rewards can be unbelievable. But they’re clearly more difficult to market.”

    That originality is a dying value on the blockbuster end of the movie business is no secret. In the last five years, only about 20 percent of the films with more than $200 million in domestic ticket sales were purely original in concept, rather than a sequel or an adaptation of some pre-existing material like “The Da Vinci Code.”

- Red Digital Cinema, which I've always thought of as just a camera company, announced at NAB that they're also going to make 4K projectors and displays. Mike Curtis, a sometime consultant to the company, has the details.

- The budget for 'Spiderman 3' may have passed the $300 million mark (or $350 million, if you believe some reports), according to Variety and Radar Online. James Cameron's 'Avatar,' scheduled for 2009, already has an "initial budget" of $195 million -- which could grow bigger as that project heads toward theaters. When it comes to summer tentpole releases, studios are willing to gamble big and hope they wind up with a movie that becomes a must-see.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

iKlipz: Trying to put old-school Hollywood muscle behind new media

An interesting piece from today's LA Times about iKlipz, a video site. Right now, the site is a jumble of different videos (many of which originate on other sites, like

But one of the site's new ideas is buying the rights on the festival circuit to air the first 10 or 15 minutes of a movie on the Net. That's helpful in marketing a new movie -- but why wouldn't the studio distributing it just do the same thing themselves?

Deborah Netburn writes:

    In September, David Dinerstein, former head of Paramount Classics and a consultant for iklipz, heard about a documentary film called "A Clown Short of Destiny" being shown on the festival circuit. It was a sort of revenge film against the metal band Slipknot and told how the band had abandoned the scene in which it had grown up.

    Dinerstein brought the film to iklipz, where Cohen and his team recognized they might have a moderate hit on their hands. The director, Chad Calek, agreed to give them the first 20 minutes of his film, but rather than just upload it to the site and wait for viewers to find it, they decided to give it a small promotional push. They took out ads in heavy metal magazines and did radio spots. The budget was different from what Cohen used when promoting "Braveheart," but when they premiered the film on Sept. 27, they got 160,000 views over two days.

    Like so many destinations on the Web, iklipz seems to be more about what it could be than what it actually is, and Cohen has no plans to promote other films, although he says he hopes to do that. Next year, he would like to go to Sundance as a buyer — or at least part buyer. His idea is to put $10,000 toward helping a studio buy a film and then get the right to air the first 10 or 15 minutes exclusively on his site. Eventually, he sees iklipz as being a marketplace for independent film — a year-round film festival where filmmakers and film buyers can meet and hold discussions.


Are we at the Blu-ray tipping point?

This piece from The Hollywood Reporter suggests that Blu-ray high-def discs are gaining momentum in the marketplace: in the first quarter, 70 percent of all high-def discs sold were Blu-ray. The data comes from the trade mag Home Media Retailer. From the piece:

    Research...shows that eight of the 10 top-selling high-definition titles in the first quarter [of 2007] were on Blu-ray Disc. At the top of the list was "Casino Royale," which sold through to consumers an estimated 59,680 units in the period. The Blu-ray Disc edition of "Departed" finished second, while the HD DVD version of that Oscar-winning film placed third.

    From January 1-March 31, consumers bought almost 1.2 million high-definition discs -- 832,530 Blu-ray units and 359,300 HD DVDs -- according to Home Media Magazine. In March, consumers bought 335,980 Blu-ray Discs and 119,570 HD DVDs.

    Since the high-def format's inception -- HD DVD launched in April 2006, while Blu-ray got rolling two months later -- more than 2.14 million discs have been purchased by consumers: 1.2 million Blu-ray Discs and about 937,500 HD DVDs.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Can the Internet duplicate the star-making power of 'Idol'?

My monthly Boston Globe column looks at a few start-ups -- including one that was acquired by Yahoo last year -- trying to create online talent competitions, a la 'American Idol.'

From the piece:

    The sites are addressing a problem that the Internet era has created for singers, bands, filmmakers, and other creative types: Given how easy it is to post an MP3 music file or a video clip on the Web, and how much content is now accessible, it's increasingly difficult to stand out.

    "You put your stuff on MySpace, and you get lost amidst thousands of bands," says Campbell.

    The talent sites hope to leverage votes and ratings from Internet users to help the cream rise to the top. But one big challenge is preventing users from tipping the scales toward their favorite contestants -- and the contestants themselves from gaming the voting system.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Direct to DVD Releases Getting Some Respect ... Squabbles Over 3-D Release Dates

- The Wall Street Journal has a good piece about studios planning more direct-to-DVD releases, relying on solid tie-ins to other movies and clever marketing. Merissa Marr writes:

    Direct-to-DVD has shaken off much of the stigma of its early days. Once considered a dumping ground for movies that weren't good enough for theatrical release, it is becoming a place that top-flight filmmakers are considering taking their projects. With studios curtailing the number of feature films they are releasing, direct-to-DVD is a low-risk way to extend franchises and increase profit.

    "It's not the biggest part of the market, but it's the most important slice of home entertainment today due to the enormous growth potential for each studio," says Amir Malin, a managing principal at the media investment fund Qualia Capital, who oversaw such early DVD hits as "Barbie" in his previous role as a studio executive.

    Still, it's a crowded market -- the number of direct-to-DVD titles has grown from around 430 in 2004 to about 630 last year, according to Adams Media Research. One of the keys is clever marketing. With that in mind, Warner brought in marketing expert Diane Nelson to run Warner Premiere. Ms. Nelson came from global brand management, where she was responsible for the studio's big-budget "Harry Potter" franchise, among other things.

One interesting idea mentioned is Warner Bros. plan to do a direct-to-DVD release called 'Get Smarter' that will come out 10 days after 'Get Smart,' starring Steve Carell, is released to theaters.

- DreamWorks and Fox are already sparring over Memorial Day 2009: each studio wants to release a 3-D movie that weekend. Fox's is James Cameron's 'Avatar'; DreamWorks' is the animated 'Monsters vs. Aliens.' The LA Times writes:

    The nation's largest exhibitors...say they won't have room for both. As many as 5,000 screens are expected to be equipped to show 3-D movies by 2009, up from 700 today. But DreamWorks and Fox each want all of them. DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, who has been campaigning to get theater operators to accelerate the conversion to 3-D, has told people that he needs 6,000 screens for "Monsters vs. Aliens."

    "I would not want to be put in the position of choosing one over the other," said Mike Campbell, CEO of Regal Entertainment Group, the nation's largest theater chain. "I want both — just not on the same day."

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

BusinessWeek gives a thumbs-up

Tech writer Stephen Wildstrom seems to think that Jaman is on its way to becoming a significant player in digital movie distirbution. His piece is headlined, 'At Last, an Online Art House.' Wildstrom likes the pricing (download to own for $4.99, rather than a DVD-like $15) and selection. From the piece:

    ...This startup download service aims to become an online film festival for world movies and the works of independent filmmakers—the sort that don’t have distribution deals with Miramax (DIS) Film or Fox Searchlight Pictures (NWS).

    The concept is more novel than you might think. Outside of Jaman, the movies available for download today are mostly a subset of the limited offerings at your local Blockbuster (BBI), dominated by films that have recently finished their theatrical runs, box-office hits of the last few years, direct-to-video flops, and just a smattering of classics. Movielink’s download service offers fewer than 150 of the thousands of movies made before 1970, plus a shamefully underpowered roster of 40 foreign films.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Three quickies: Joost, Netflix, Sony

- The fledgling Internet TV service Joost has started to sign up independent producers, according to The biggest name on board so far, of course, is Viacom. Now, IndieFlix and Shorts International are involved -- and I presume that'll involve additional compensation for the content creators.

- Netflix just announced their first quarter earnings. Interesting tidbit: since January, they've delivered one million streams of TV shows and movies to subscribers via the Netflix site's 'Watch Now' feature.

- Wired's Gadget Lab blog reports on some problems purportedly related to new copyprotection Sony has added to DVDs. Problems have been affecting new movies like 'Casino Royale' and 'Stranger than Fiction.'

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Phenomenal piece about movie budgets

The LA Times ran a great story package Sunday on how movie budgets balloon out of control, using 'Sahara' as a case study. Glenn Bunting writes:

    Movie budgets are one of the last remaining secrets in the entertainment business, typically known to only high-level executives, senior producers and accountants.

    "The studios guard that information very, very carefully," said Phil Hacker, a senior partner in a Century City accounting firm that audits motion pictures. "It is a gossip industry. Everyone wants to know what everyone else is getting paid."

    The records offer insights into the economics of modern-day moviemaking and industry practices that seldom are disclosed.

'Sahara' was directed by Breck Eisner, son of Michael Eisner. It didn't do too badly at the box office, but was still one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history. Bunting continues:

    Unlike most financial failures, "Sahara" performed reasonably well, ranking No. 1 after its opening weekend and generating $122 million in gross box-office sales. But the movie was saddled with exorbitant costs, including a $160-million production and $81.1 million in distribution expenses.

Don't miss the graphics and charts accompanying the piece.

(I missed this when it came out -- but will add it to my Netflix list since I'm a big Steve Zahn fan.)

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Video Ads on YouTube: Launching Next Week?

YouTube has been talking since January about integrating advertising into its videos. Viewers could start seeing pre-roll and post-roll ads on some videos as soon as next week. Video creators will be invited to opt in to the advertising program -- it won't be foisted upon all creators -- and YouTube will split the ad revenues 50/50.

This tantalizing tip is courtesy of Howard Lindzon, founder of Wallstrip. I had the chance to chat briefly with Lindzon after a panel on Internet video at the Web 2.0 Expo this morning.

(Post-script: This later became a Variety story. Then, Howard and I spoke by phone a few days later, and while he said he was convinced that YouTube would launch advertising at some point, he wasn't standing by what he'd said earlier in the week. He did note that he'd posted some videos with his own pre-roll advertising inserted in them, and YouTube didn't have a problem with that. YouTube later issued this statement to Beet.TV.)

During the panel, which was ably moderated by Liz Gannes of NewTeeVee, Lindzon had quipped that he was hoping that Google or Yahoo would solve the problem of generating real revenue from videos "before we run out of money." Lindzon also said he was more enthusiastic about product endorsements delivered by the hosts of a show, rather than unrelated spots tacked onto it, TV-style. He said he is a fan of Howard Stern's "live read" commercials on radio.

Here's more on YouTube and advertising, from Ars Technica and the BBC.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Alternative programming in d cinemas ... Unbox for indies ... BAVC Innovation Salons

- The Washington Times has a smart piece about alternative programming being shown in digital cinemas, focusing mainly on concerts and director Q&As.

- Variety's Anne Thompson writes about how indie filmmakers are using sites like Unbox and inDplay to wring money from their features. Still, seems like a tough slog to try to earn a profit on a $100,000 film through digital distribution only.

- The Bay Area Video Coalition is starting a cool series called the Innovation Salon; the first one is coming up soon, on April 26th. Speakers include animator M dot Strange, Orphanage co-founder Stu Maschwitz, the CEO of the Independent Online Distribution Alliance, and Electronic Arts executive Lincoln Dean Hershberger. It's free to attend -- just RSVP. Here's the description:

    From visual effects to game design, to animators to programmers, the Bay Area has proven that artists and geeks can rule the world. Is it talent, tolerance and technology?* From the ecosystem now dubbed “Digital Hollywood” come award-winning movies and games like Sin City, The Incredibles, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Matrix, Battlefield, and The Sims--new ways to tell stories, get music, watch video, play games and build community. Science + creativity = Revenge of the Nerds. Welcome to the future.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Acting for the digital camera

David Cohen has a great piece in Variety about how digital cameras are changing acting. He talks to 'Apocalypto' director Mel Gibson and Tony Bill, who made 'Flyboys.' (Both were shot with Panavision's Genesis digital camera.) One interesting source is Marley Shelton, an actress who appears in both halves of 'Grindhouse,' Robert Rodriguez' (shot with the Genesis) and Quentin Tarantino's (shot on film.) Cohen writes:

    With film, says Shelton, "there's a beginning, middle and an end between 'action' and 'cut.' As an actor, one is trained to listen for cues such as 'roll sound' and slate, and you use that moment to prepare and go on a journey as your character for a few minutes or seconds. You use that time to suspend disbelief for yourself. In that 10 seconds, you're sort of going into a zone."

    But, Shelton says, when shooting digital, the freedom to keep rolling means "you're sort of sifting for diamonds. It's great in that you can probe deeper in certain moments, but it's less conducive to riding the impulses your character is having chronologically."

    Rodriguez would gather the cast and crew around the monitor, show them the playback and give notes.

    Tarantino, by contrast, took a more old-school approach, watching with the naked eye and not even using playback.

    "At that point," Shelton says, "I was so used to Robert's style that it was disconcerting to have (Tarantino) standing next to the camera."Another difference, Shelton notes, is that digital "dailies" include much more of what goes on on the set than do film dailies, which only include what happens between "action" and "cut."

    "Whoever is watching the dailies can see the entire process, the good, the bad and the ugly," Shelton says. "You really have to be able to let go of your ego in high-def."

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thursday links: Comcast and Fandango ... Drive-Ins at Home ... Movie Gallery and Moviebeam

- Comcast just bought Fandango, the movie ticketing site, and announced that they're going to try again to create some sort of cool new digital destination called, described in the NY Times piece as a site that will "allow users to watch on-demand shows via television, the Internet and wireless devices." It'll be up this summer. The Journal describes Fancast a bit differently, as "a national online destination that will allow consumers to search, discover and manage entertainment choices across multiple platforms including television, computers, DVDs and wireless services."

Either way, I'm sure it'll be stupendous. Remember Comcast's Ziddio, launched way back in November?

- Sweet NY Times piece on wealthy movie buffs who install drive-in size screens in their back yards. Joyce Wadler writes:

    Feeling a little bored in the backyard with your pool, spa, outdoor kitchen, tennis court, fireplace and fire pit? Fear not. Outdoor video has landed. It’s been seen here and there in the last few years — a pop-up TV in the side of the hot tub, a video projection on an inflatable screen — but it’s been an outdoor novelty, the equivalent, perhaps, of Angelenos and their cellphones 15 years ago. But with such advances as weather-resistant television sets impervious to rain; good-quality low-cost video projectors and screens; and widescreen high-definition TV, as well as the general trend to move the indoors out, outdoor theater is gaining ground.

    “It’s becoming more and more popular because the products are better and cheaper,” said Jeff Hoover, the president of Audio Advisors in West Palm Beach, Fla. “Instead of having to spend $10,000 or $15,000 for a projector, you can get a nice little $1,500 projector now that will make great 100-inch pictures. And now that there are large-panel TVs that are getting brighter and cheaper, people are starting to put outdoor theaters in patios that are mostly covered.

- I somehow missed the news last month that Movie Gallery, the video rental chain that also owns Hollywood Video, had purchased MovieBeam, a system that delivers movies over the air to a set-top box. MovieBeam had received about $48.5 million in funding last year from Disney, Cisco, Intel, and several venture capital firms. Seems like Movie Gallery is paying in the neighborhood of $10 million for MovieBeam (earlier CinemaTech coverage here), which makes it a phenomenally cheap bet for a bricks-and-mortar rental company to make on the digital future. Blockbuster has been talking for eons now about buying Movielink, an Internet-based service that doesn't require a set-top box or antenna, as MovieBeam did...

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

BusinessWeek on moguls going digital, and high-def discs

- In BusinessWeek, Ronald Grover looks at some of the new digital media ventures being launched by old-school media moguls, including Michael Eisner (Disney), Steven Bochco (LA Law and Hill Street Blues), and Herb Scannell (Nickelodeon).

- And Catherine Holahan suggests that price, not porn, may be the key to winning the high-def DVD battle.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Conference: 'Making Media Now: Filmmaking in Transition'

Was talking today with David Tamés, a Boston techie and filmmaker who is helping the Filmmakers Collaborative organize this event on June 1st. There'll be sessions on using the Internet for fundraising, producing short content for the Web, and copyright issues.


Wal-Mart: 3000 movies downloaded in first month

The AP has a story talking about how retailers are likely to see their DVD sales slip, just as CD sales have fallen each year since 2003. Two interesting tidbits from the piece relate to Wal-Mart and Blockbuster:

    Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is the farthest along [in terms of retailers offering digital downloads] after selling 3,000 movie downloads in its first month, February. Blockbuster Inc. spokeswoman Karen Raskopf said the movie rental chain intends to enter digital downloads by the end of this year, perhaps in partnership with another company.

    "We don't see digital downloading becoming a huge business in the next year or two, but our view is we need to be in the business, and we don't want to be at a competitive disadvantage," she said.

Could that other company Blockbuster may ally with be Movielink?

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Eastwood didn't want 'Flags' shown digitally

The LA Times has a run-of-the-mill progress report on the digital cinema roll-out, with one juicy detail. Josh Friedman writes:

    Paramount Pictures has released digital versions of almost every movie since last summer's "Mission: Impossible III," said Mark Christiansen, vice president of operations at the studio.

    But when it screened Clint Eastwood's World War II drama "Flags of Our Fathers" digitally before last fall's release, the director and his team balked.

    "They just didn't think it gave the same visceral feeling," Christiansen said. "We're always going to listen to the filmmakers.

(Paramount, of course, has the rep of being the first to dabble with, but slowest to commit to, digital cinema.)

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Internet Movie Marketplaces: Who's Most Likely to Succeed?

Who’ll end up as the Blockbuster of Internet movie distribution?

No one has all the elements in place yet: big audience, vast selection, intuitive design, and a simple way to transfer movies onto portable devices and the living room television.

But here’s my ranking of the five players that are “most likely to succeed” in the business of digital distribution.

1. iTunes Store

The big dog. Works for both Mac and PC users, and as of April 2007, had sold 50 million TV shows and two million feature films. New $299 Apple TV device makes it easy to wirelessly transfer iTunes content to a television and view it there. The negatives: no rentals (only download-to-own, at $9.99 and up), no way yet for indie producers to sell their content, no simple way to burn shows or movies from iTunes to a DVD. Also: only a few studios offer features on iTunes, including Disney, MGM, and Lionsgate. Paramount supplies older films -- not new releases. Others have so far been reluctant to cut deals with Apple CEO (and Disney board member) Steve Jobs.

2. Amazon Unbox

Unlike iTunes, Amazon Unbox makes movies available for digital rental and purchase. Movies can be sent directly to an Internet-connnected TiVo device for viewing on a TV. While Unbox hasn’t yet built much momentum in the marketplace, Amazon has a built-in advantage over the other players on this list: hundreds of thousands of consumers already trust the company with their payment information, and have Amazon accounts already. Amazon can also make movie recommendations based on past purchases.

Indie producers can make their content available on Unbox using Amazon’s CustomFlix service, and keep 50 percent of the revenues. That makes Unbox the most “long tail”-friendly movie service. Among the studios offering features: 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, Universal, Paramount, Sony, MGM, and Warner Bros. Movies from Lionsgate, Sony, Warner Bros., and Fox. Works well with Windows-compatible portable devices like the Creative Zen Vision. PC only.

3. CinemaNow

CinemaNow has been in the movie download business longer than most anybody else: since 1999. It helped pioneer technology to download a movie and then burn it to a DVD (more than 100 titles are now available, mostly older movies), and CinemaNow also hasn’t been prudish about offering “mature content,” working with porn providers like Vivid and Hustler. CinemaNow is the only service working with all six major Hollywood studios. Offers some movies for free, as ad-supported streams. Movies can get to TV with a Windows Media Center Edition PC, and to Windows-compatible portable players. PC only.

4. Vongo

Vongo is unique in offering an “all you can eat” movie service for a dirt-cheap $9.99 monthly fee. About 1000 movies are available at any given time, but some titles rotate in and out of inventory. Works with various Windows systems (Media Center Edition, Vista Ultimate, Xbox 360) to display content on a TV. Content can also be synced with Windows-friendly portable media players. Vongo also offers a live, streaming version of the Starz TV channel. Rental only, PC only.

5. Microsoft Xbox 360 Video Marketplace

Microsoft has sold more than 10 million of its Xbox 360 gaming consoles, as of December 2006. The video marketplace offers standard-def and high-def features from Warner Bros., Paramount, Lionsgate, and New Line. (As of April 2007, Xbox and CinemaNow are the only of these services offering movies in high-definition.) Rentals only; no download-to-own. High-def new release movies cost $6, and standard-def new releases cost $4. Since the gaming console is already connected to a TV, viewing on the big screen is a breeze.

Dark horses (in no particular order)

MovieLink: Initially launched as a joint venture of several major studios, but never well-promoted. Blockbuster is reportedly interested in acquiring Movielink – which could help introduce the service to a wider audience, especially if Blockbuster ties in digital downloads with rentals from its retail locations.

ClickStar: Offers both rentals and downloads. Some movies, like “10 Items or Less,” will appear on Clickstar just a few weeks after their theatrical debut. Biggest things ClickStar has going for it: the involvement of Morgan Freeman and his producing partner, the supremely tech-savvy Lori McCreary.

Netflix: Digital downloads are now built into Netflix’s monthly subscription package. About 1000 titles available, which could grow to 5000 by the end of 2007. Streaming only, PCs only.

Wal-Mart: Expect Wal-Mart to offer the cheapest prices, if not the most compelling user experience. Launched in February 2007.

Joost: Viacom announced a deal in February 2007 to make movies from Paramount and MTV Films available on Joost.

BitTorrent: Download or rent movies from Fox, MGM, Paramount, and Warner Bros. Bit Torrent’s advantage is zippy peer-to-peer download speed.

GUBA: Partnerships with Warner Bros. and Sony.

Some other comparisons of Internet movie marketplaces:

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Grindhouse: Half digital, half celluloid

I happened to be visiting Troublemaker Studios, Robert Rodriguez' Austin headquarters, last March when they were unpacking the Panavision Genesis digital camera they planned to use for 'Grindhouse.' At that point, the plan was to shoot both halves of 'Grindhouse' digitally, with Rodriguez shouldering the Genesis for Quentin Tarantino's 'Death Proof.'

"I'm gonna be Quentin's DP [director of photography], but have him operate the B camera on my half ['Planet Terror']," Rodriguez told me around that time. "He can learn about it."

But somewhere along the way, Quentin decided to serve as his own DP, and shoot on film. Mike Curtis has some background on HD for Indies, and there's a bit more detail in this Q&A with Rodriguez, from the March issue of Wired. An excerpt:

    You tried to coax Tarantino, a film purist, into going digital. What was your argument? I told Quentin we could make a digital movie and have it look exactly like a film from the era. He said, "If you can do that, I'll be convinced." I took footage from Sin City and From Dusk Till Dawn, degraded it digitally, and mixed it with some music. I wanted it to look like a living graphic novel. I showed him the results, and he was blown away. He said, "All right. You win."

    But he ultimately shot his movie analog. He has his own style. But he is adapting. He picked up on digital techniques right away. For instance, he knows he can ask the tech guys to previsualize car crashes, which means he can choose angles and things like that in advance. I think he's starting to see how valuable it is to have all this stuff at your disposal.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

A small foothold for movie delivery via satellite?

Delivering digital movies to theaters via satellite has traditionally run into lots of snafus: bandwidth is expensive, especially when you're delivering to a small number of locations, and not every theater has a good rooftop line-of-sight location for a satellite dish. But Raleigh, NC-based Microspace Communications is giving it a go, installing dishes and server equipment in over 200 theaters owned by Carmike Cinemas. Here's the story from (I'm a bit skeptical of some of the facts in this piece from, though. Every studio now delivers movies on hard drives, for instance, so I'm not sure that having satellite capability gives Carmike access to more movies.)

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Three Worth Reading: Incompatible Movie Formats, TiVo's Web Smarts, and More Burton in 3-D

- Stephen Wildstrom of BusinessWeek writes about the many incompatible formats and viewing options for digital movies. He writes:

    The problem is that the quickly growing stock of movies and shows available for download is scattered among an assortment of stores including Movielink, CinemaNow, Google Video (GOOG), and (AMZN) Unbox, as well as Apple's (AAPL) iTunes Store. And while there's a lot of overlap, there's also a significant amount of content exclusive to one or another service.

    This has happened because the digital-download business isn't like any other sort of retailing. Any bookstore can order any book in print from its publisher. And once customers buy it, they can do whatever they wish with it. But download services must negotiate their rights studio by studio, sometimes title by title. And the deals cover not only which movies and TV shows are available but also what sort of video quality can be offered at what price, and, in excruciating detail, just what consumers can do with the video they have bought or rented.

    Consider the rules covering movies purchased from Movielink, typically for $13.99 (different rules cover rentals). You can watch your movie as often as you want, but only on a Windows PC. Some films can be watched on up to three different PCs; others can't. You can make a backup copy to DVD, but you must copy it back to a PC to view it; you can't watch it on a standard DVD player.

- David Pogue of the NY Times appreciates TiVo's recent efforts to create a simple, useful connection to the world of Web video, including the ability to download movies from Amazon Unbox.

- Disney is converting one of Tim Burton's first animated shorts ('Vincent') into 3-D for this fall's release of 'The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D,' according to The Hollywood Reporter. Carolyn Giardina writes:

    Made in 1982, "Vincent" is a six-minute stop-motion film that tells the story of Vincent Malloy, a youth who imagines that he is like Vincent Price. The black-and-white short is based on a poem written by Burton, who was influenced by Price. Price narrated the film.

    "When you have an evergreen title like 'Nightmare,' it is very important to give the fan a chance to sample something new," said Chuck Viane, president of Disney's Buena Vista Pictures Domestic Distribution. "Each year on bring backs, we are going to try to add some value."

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Aardman Features allies with Sony Pictures

After splitting up with DreamWorks Animation in January (just two movies into a five-picture deal), UK-based Aardman Features has decided to release future films through Sony Pictures. Aardman's most recent movie for DreamWorks, 'Flushed Away,' cost $130 million to make, and grossed $176 million worldwide. 'Flushed' was Aardman's first CG-animated pic, after years of work in claymation. From the Variety piece:

    In future, Aardman will be working in a range of animation styles, including both CGI and the stop-motion claymation projects for which it is best known. It also expects to produce pics at different budget levels, and plans to increase its rate of output to release a movie every 18 months.

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