RealNetworks, Starz Launch Movie Service

A year later than planned, RealNetworks and Starz Encore have launched a subscription-based movie download service for U.S. broadband Internet users.

Called "STARZ! Ticket on Real Movies," the service costs $12.95 monthly and will offer at least 100 movies at any given time, the companies say. It is intended for U.S. residents only and requires a high-speed Internet connection of at least 600k bits per second (bps), the companies says.

Movies will be encoded in the RealVideo 10 format at 700kbps to provide a picture quality that company says is close to that of DVD. The download time will depend on the movie length and the user's Internet connection speed. The files are between 400MB and 700MB in size, according to a RealNetworks spokesperson. They are protected using RealNetwork's Helix Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology to prevent users from sharing them.

Jockeying for Market

RealNetworks and Starz first announced plans for a movie download service in December 2002. The introduction was delayed because it took extra time to develop the service and because the companies wanted to wait until more people had high-speed Internet connections, a spokesperson for RealNetworks says.

Movies are already available online from the Microsoft-backed CinemaNow service and from Movielink, a joint venture of several large movie studios. CinemaNow offers pay-per-view, download-to-own, and subscription options. Movies from Movielink can be stored for up to 30 days, but must be viewed within 24 hours after a movie has been started, meaning users can't watch half a movie one day and the rest a few days later.

RealNetworks Chair and CEO Rob Glaser chided the movie industry earlier this year for not adopting digital media technologies quickly enough. Without compelling, legitimate online services, film and video companies will face a surge in online piracy just as the music industry did, he said in January.

"The rate of innovation (in the film and video industry) is not what is needed to avoid the 'Napsterization' the music industry went through," Glaser said in a presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. CinemaNow and Movielink have usage terms that are too restrictive and the movies offered are too old, Glaser charged.

Early Attractions

Currently available on STARZ! Ticket on Real Movies are Finding Nemo, Pirates of the Caribbean and Chicago. Upcoming titles include Spy Kids 3: Game Over and Under the Tuscan Sun, RealNetworks and Starz say. CinemaNow and Movielink already offer those upcoming movies.

To promote their service, RealNetworks and Starz are offering a 14-day free trial as well as a discounted offering for current RealNetworks SuperPass subscribers.

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