Moviefly is preparing for a new experiment on movies on demand

As the controversy over Napster – the internet song-swapping program – has become more public, and as broadband internet become more widespread, many Hollywood studios have expressed concern over digital piracy of films. After many proposals to try and fight the paradigm of transferring films over the internet, Sony has embraced the idea, and has convinced many studios to come on board for it’s new Moviefly Web-based video-on-demand service.

Sony Pictures, Warner Bros. , Universal, MGM and Paramount have joined forces to create the system which can transfer films securely over high-speed Internet lines to personal computers at high quality. According to Sony president Mel Harris, “The introduction of the service represents a significant advancement in the development of the Internet as an entertainment medium. In increasing numbers, we see audiences turning towards the broadband Internet as an exciting new channel through which they can access entertainment. Sony Pictures, along with other studios, intend to give them the opportunity to do this.”

The specifics of the system will allow users to download films to their computer for about $4.00 per title. The download time is estimated to be around forty minutes with existing cable and DSL lines. Once downloaded, the file will remain on the computer for thirty days before deleting itself. Within those thirty days, the consumer can open the file, starting a 24-hour viewing window in which they can watch the film on their computer monitor or a television hooked to the computer. Of course piracy is still a concern. And the studios are working to prevent tampering with the time-frames presented on the file, and putting some form of copy protection on the video itself.

Interestingly, history has chosen to repeat itself. DreamWorks SKG, 20th Century Fox and the Walt Disney Co. have declined to participate in the program and the latter two companies are currently working on their own alternate internet based internet-on-demand program. As is unfortunately almost always the case, a format war is likely to begin with the consumer left as the loser. The battle lines will look familiar to DVD historians who will remember that with the exception of Paramount, the same teams caused some confusion in 1997, when Sony, Warner Bros., Universal, and MGM backed the existing DVD format, and Disney, DreamWorks, and Fox invested in the now defunct DiVX format. Hopefully, similar format incompatibilities can be worked out more smoothly with the on-demand system.

No launch date has been set for the Moviefly system, but WB president Warren Lieberfarb claims it will hopefully launch within a year with over 100 movies to select from.

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