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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 August 2005, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
Testing times for video downloads
By Alfred Hermida
Technology editor, BBC News website

Bob Marley
Live performances by Bob Marley will be available to download
A British start-up is trying to do for video downloads what the iTunes music store did for audio.

The British Internet Broadcasting Company (BiBC) is launching a video download service in the UK called Boxoffice365.com.

Consumers can buy and download VHS-quality live comedy and music from the site.

But there are no feature films on offer as the big movie studios are concerned about piracy.

"Film producers have been a bit reticent," admitted BiBC's founder, Paul Hague.

"But this is about proving and showing there is a market. I am fairly confident once that they've seen this, they'll come on board," he told the BBC News website.

He hopes to have some films for download by the end of the year, although he expects only a few movies to be made available "as a kind of trial thing".

Analysts said the lack of movies could prove a major issue for Boxoffice365.

"Content is absolutely key," said Jupiter Research analyst Mark Mulligan. "It doesn't seem to have that much secured at the moment."

Lucrative business

The success of Apple's iTunes music store showed record labels there was a way of selling tracks online legitimately. Mr Hague hopes his service will lead to the same sea change in the movie industry.

The challenge for services like Boxoffice365 is that the films and TV shows that people most want to download are those that Hollywood is most unwilling to make available online.

This is not a rental system. When you purchase it, you purchase it
Paul Hague, BiBC

The studios do not want to undermine lucrative DVD sales of blockbuster movies and they are still wary of the potential of having their content pirated online.

An additional obstacle is Hollywood's complex method of selling film rights to subscription satellite channels, airlines and TV networks.

Analysts say there is little incentive for Hollywood to offer movies for download.

"Watching movies on your laptop is an inferior experience to watching them on your TV or in a movie threatre," said Mr Mulligan.

"This is one of the reasons why there is not the same impetus in the movie industry to go digital that there is in the music industry."

Mr Mulligan added that the film studios already had established and proven ways of making money, through cinema releases, DVD sales and TV licensing deals.

"The music industry moved because of necessity," he said. "You can't make the same case for film industry.

"Piracy hasn't hurt the movie business in same way as it did the music industry."

Right to buy

Faced with the rapid spread of broadband and the trading of copyrighted movies over file-sharing networks, the studios have responded with lawsuits.

In the US, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has just filed another round of cases, which could lead to fines of $150,000 (84,727) or prison terms.

Computer and DVD
Consumers are allowed to make a back-up copy to CD
BiBC's Mr Hague said lawsuits were the wrong approach. Instead Hollywood should offer legal alternatives to sate the appetite for movie and TV downloads.

In the US, movie services such as Movielink and CinemaNow have offered online film rentals. The American services only let consumers rent movies and TV shows to watch over the internet.

In the UK, cable firms NTL and Telewest have started to provide video on-demand, which let people pause, fast forward and rewind content, but not store programmes on their set top box.

By comparison, Boxoffice365 allows consumers buy and download the content.

"This is not a rental system," said Paul Hague. "When you purchase it, you purchase it."

"I've never been a fan of subscription services. I wanted something that was simple and reasonably easy to use."

People can watch downloads as many times as they want on a PC, back-up the video on a CD and transfer it to one portable video device.

But the video is copy-protected in an attempt to prevent it appearing on file-sharing networks.

So far, legal video download services have been slow to take off, hampered by the time it takes to download video and the quality of the material.

The BBC is developing its own broadband service to let people use the internet to legally download and watch programmes from BBC TV and Radio.

Sony is also working on making 500 movies available digitally, with senior executives taking about creating an "iTunes" for films.


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