Hollywood studios offer 'download to own' DivX movies online; Film Fresh the new iTunes?

For the first time ever, movie titles from Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony and Warner Bros. will be available for download online in the DivX format.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

For the first time ever, movie titles from Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony and Warner Bros. will be available for download online in the DivX format.

DivX, Inc. and movie site Film Fresh on Wednesday announced that Film Fresh will offer titles such as The Da Vinci Code; Spider-Man; Reservoir Dogs; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Religulous and the Harry Potter franchise in the "download-to-own" DivX format, beginning today.

The move marks the first time the major Hollywood studios are linking up with DivX to offer their films, which can be viewed on DivX-certified digital TVs, Blu-ray players, Sony's PlayStation 3, and phones from LG, Philips and Toshiba, among others.

But will it put Apple's iTunes on high alert?

ZDNet sat down with DivX content services director John Greene, DivX technical architect Eric Grab and Film Fresh CEO Rick Bolton to discuss the move toward media-less movies.

ZDNet: What's the significance of "download to own" media?

Eric Grab: Now you can download a movie from the Internet and move it to a television or a phone or a USB drive.

When you see that logo on a DivX device, it's going to play those movies. They're download-to-own experiences. It's about $10 to $15 for a download, and it's yours to keep. You can copy it to a USB drive, and walk it over to a TV. You can burn it to a disc, and you can play it in your car if you want to...you know, if you're a passenger. We don't want drivers watching movies!

The file is protected and self-contained. If the file gets damaged, you can go online and download it again.

ZDNet: Why Film Fresh?

Rick Bolton: Film Fresh has been around for about four years now, and when we started, we began offering independent films and global films in DivX format. Now that the [major] studios have gotten more interested in the electronic sell-through format...we'll probably have about 1,000 films available in DivX format.

It's exciting to be the first DivX store in the U.S. We'll give iTunes a run for their money.

ZDNet: How will you convince American consumers to drop the DVD? Even Blu-ray hasn't shaken their habits.

RB: DivX tech enables a wider group of people to participate in downloading entertainment. There just hasn't been a content service for those people.

EG: It's about one gigabyte or more for a nice movie. The download process doesn't necessarily have to be real time -- if you have a good connection, you can download it in 15 minutes. If you don't, you can do it over a longer period of time.

ZDNet: How are you going to bring legally downloadable movies to parts of the U.S. that isn't served by high-speed Internet?

RB: It's still an interesting moment from an infrastructure perspective. The studios have decided to put a bet on the infrastructure. They believe there's enough bandwidth in the U.S. to do this. And we're hoping that President Obama addresses this. It's particularly important for rural people.

EG: Our base is very large. From a footprint standpoint, 12 million people come to our site each month, worldwide. There have been 1 billion hits to our player throughout the year.

You're getting more for your money. We're offering a better value. There's going to be grassroots support of this. A key market is the enthusiast market.

ZDNet: Don't people like holding physical media, though? Despite the success of the MP3, full-length movies haven't really taken off online.

RB: I think we are at the tipping point right now. We've seen a little more dramatic consumer adoption of our own service, but now we're seeing studios being more willing to make deals with us. People are adopting download-to-own. Part of this is because of iTunes and the ground Apple broke. Studios are throwing their weight behind the effort.

EG: It's downloading for everybody, on every device. It's really about the three screens: computer, TV, phone.

ZDNet: That last one is particularly important as more smartphones and portable media players support high-quality video.

RB: We're very interested in mobile, and the next-generation of DivX-enabled phones will be pretty significant for us. Right now we're completely focused on the market advantage that DivX can be moved around.

EG: It's a technical challenge and a legal challenge. You can download a movie at the same time as the DVD release.

RB: The rate of DVD sales is going down and the rate of digital sales is going up.

What's exciting for us is that no one's quite sure what consumers want to do, even consumers. That's exciting. We're making a bet that consumers are going to want to download movies in DivX format and that be a substantial part of entertainment, period.

It's dramatic. It's exciting.

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