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Movie Downloads: Would You Do It?

Frank Ahrens

Today, I wrote about Morgan Freeman, of all people, starting a movie-download business called ClickStar .

The idea is: Pay to download a movie off the Web, like you would a song, and watch it on your computer or, if you have the right hookup, on your TV.

With the move, Freeman goes head-to-head with Apple's Steve Jobs, who added movies to his popular iTunes music download service in September. The big Hollywood studios have had their own download services -- Movielink and CinemaNow -- for a few years now. Heard of them? Yeah, not surprising. And Amazon started its own business, called Unbox , back in the summer.

My question for you is: Have you used any of these services, or any others, to buy a movie online? If you did, where did you watch it, your computer or your TV? If so, how was the experience?

If you haven't done it, would you? Suppose it cost $10 or $20 to buy a movie online and you got to keep it forever. Suppose you could rent one cheaper.

Suppose you had to pay an additional $200 or $300 for a set-top box that would let you watch the downloaded movie on your TV. How about then?

It still takes a while to download the movies. Super high-speed connections get it down in about three minutes, but DSL, what a lot of people have, will still take about an hour.

In that time, you can drive to the store and pick up a DVD. Or, it takes less than three minutes to rip open that Netflix envelope.

What would it take to make you switch from DVD to download?

Today In The Post:

* Microsoft is (finally) ready to roll out its new Windows Vista operating system tomorrow. Alan Sipress reports.

* This is great: George Lucas is suing a Maryland firm making knockoff lightsabers. May the tort be with you. (This, of course, makes me think of Star Wars Kid.)


* Brands on the brain: New research shows that the brain recognizes and likes well-known product brand names faster than ones it's never heard of. Whatever they're doing to us, those product-makers, it seems to be working.

By Frank Ahrens  |  November 29, 2006; 11:49 AM ET  | Category:  Frank Ahrens
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don't think i'd ever switch. i use netflix, which i find perfect because i don't have to visit the video store or worry about late fees. once i watch a movie, i'm over it. rarely want to watch anything twice (except maybe some old classics), and don't want the clutter of a collection. on those rare occasions i buy a dvd, i usually pass it on to a friend or relative, to do that with a download service i'd have to figure out how to use the burner on my dvd -- life's too short. blank dvds are still pretty pricey, too, which adds to the cost.

i'll stick w/netflix, or better yet, stadium seating with an imax screen and a big tub o' buttered popcorn!

Posted by: b | November 29, 2006 1:54 PM

I rent movies all the time from cinemanow. I hook my portable computer (wirelessly networked) up to my TV and watch in the living room.

I run into quite a few downloading glitches, but I haven't been to the movie store in years. Cinemanow has been good about refunding my money if it doesn't work.

I don't rent enough to make netflix cost-effective, so downloading has been great!

I don't plan on buying any DVDs in this fashion, though.

Posted by: KL | November 29, 2006 2:14 PM

First we had Netflix and it was good, then we had Blockbuster online which was good too because you received free rentals at the store. We got rid of that, and just pay as you go at the video store, or rent for free from the public library.

A new service called redbox ( appeared at the grocery store which is like a DVD vending machine. You still have to return the movie to the vending machine, but it's not like we're rarely at the grocery store! And, it's only $1/day.

I think I would definitely use a downloading service for movies (tho' how is it different than pay per view?)

The problem is for my situation that a few dollars is fine, but that $10 price point is pretty steep.

Also, while I have very modern computers, I don't have the proper hardware to playback movies on my TV, and I like the computer hidden away in the office. I'm certainly not going to buy a set-top computer-to-TV interface. But I say that as someone who is not a movie fan.

On the flip side I did purchase Apple's airtunes which lets you play iTunes anywhere in the house. It's the same as a video device, but I like music much more than movies.

I think the bottom line is that if the price is right, people will go for it. However the features you get with your on-line video sales must be inline with what you get on DVD.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 2:55 PM

I rent from MovieLink all the time and watch on my computer. One thing that this columnist and a lot of the coverage I've seen has wrong is the download time. It does take an hour or so (on a high-speed connection) to download the entire movie, but the technology is such that you're allowed to start watching after only a few percent of the movie has completed downloading -- the remainder of the movie downloads in the background while you watch the film. I've never had to wait more than ten minutes to start watching a movie from the time I hit the submit button. The biggest downside remains selection -- still much less than even the worst (Blockbuster) video store; but one assumes that that will gradually change and, since the online people don't have to worry about physical inventory, eventually actually far exceed brick-and-mortar store inventories.

Posted by: casp7 | November 29, 2006 2:55 PM

Thanks, casp7, that's a good point that I should have included: With most services, you can start watching the movie while it's downloading; you don't have to wait until it's done.

Posted by: Frank Ahrens | November 29, 2006 3:09 PM

. . . with the result that, aside from selection, and given the speed of current computers and size and quality of monitors, there's not much reason to schlep to the store. I personally think that video rental stores' days are numbered.

Posted by: casp7 | November 29, 2006 3:17 PM

I would put myself down as a yes to renting but a no to buying. I have Netflix and I am quite happy with the service. But sometimes i just want to watch something other than my 3 movie selection. Doesn't happen all the time but it happens enough. I can definitely 10 minutes or so to watch and movie and I would plunk down a hundred or so to get a set top box.

Fairly techno savy I just don't want a computer in my family room and I just don't want to dork around with it. It's worth it to buy a device that focuses on one thing and does it well.


Posted by: Sean | November 29, 2006 4:30 PM

25 years from now downloading a movie through a network connection will be as common as making a phone call is today.

Between now and then film & technology firms will need to resolve many issues: bandwidth, hard drive storage space, piracy, parental control, image/sound quality, and operating system issues. Most important of all, Hollywood needs to start making movies worth watching in any venue.

I currently own the technology and have the bandwidth to download movies but have been disappointed with the image quality and film selection from the sites currently offering legal movie downloads. Adding another piece of hardware would not be a welcome prospect.

Posted by: thw2001 | November 29, 2006 4:39 PM

Only way I'd download over I'net and view movies is if they're in HD. I won't view on my iMac, but if I could get the picture to my TV, I'd be interested in HD films.

Posted by: Art | November 29, 2006 5:11 PM

There are many reasons why I would not use this service and I think it will fail, at least in its current form.

#1 - Even if you are patient enough to do the download, you still get an inferior product to what you get from a DVD. The movie is compressed and will look like crap on a big screen TV. I don't see my family sitting down in front of my computer monitor either. I want a full-quality (HD OR full-res standard DVD) picture and Digital surround sound, not some cheap, compressed imitation.

#2 - DRM. It sucks. It places a burden on the consumer by basically assuming that the consumer is going to try and "steal" the content. If I buy or rent a DVD, I can play it whenever and wherever I want - on my computer, on an airplane, in a car, or on my TV. If I download a movie, my viewing options are severely restricted.

#3 - DVDs have "extras" that I personally find interesting sometimes - behind the scenes stuff, outtakes, commentary tracks, etc. All of which adds to the overall DVD experience. How does this compare to a downloaded movie?

Nope, color me unimpressed. Netflix (or whatever) does a darn good job already.

Posted by: moveiguy | November 29, 2006 6:03 PM

I've used Movielink numerous times. I watch them on the computer (it has a remote). Downloading is still faster than driving to the rental store twice - or waiting a couple days for Netflix. My main gripes with the current download services are:
1)too small rental window (movielink is an exact 24hrs - 36hrs would be much preferrable)
2)relatively high price
3)limited selection
4)compression (they have substantially improved this in the couple years I've used their service)

Posted by: ckj | November 29, 2006 7:39 PM

I might use a download service to "sample" a movie before deciding whether to buy it - for example, if there were a company that offered a flat monthly fee for unlimited downloads, I'd download a few movies a month to watch, and then buy the DVDs of the ones I really liked. I'd probably end up watching the movie(s) on my video MP3 player when I'm on the train or something. Granted, I'd have to watch in bits and pieces, as that would kill the battery life, but still.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2006 8:40 PM

I must admit that I found this site by mistake but this is a great site!!! I wish more people will invest their time to build sites like this one. Thank you.

Posted by: billy | November 30, 2006 6:30 PM

I play Netflix and library movies and don't really watch anything that requires uninterrupted time. My house is already cluttered with too much crapola for me to want to own. The only download that would tempt me is French or Italian TV. You can't get it.

Posted by: Tomcat | December 1, 2006 5:20 PM

I use a service on (with RealPlayer) called Starz Ticket. It's pretty cool, though the selection isn't that exciting or new.

Posted by: Henry | December 5, 2006 10:56 PM

I must admit that I found this site by mistake but this is a great site!!! I wish more people will invest their time to build sites like this one. Thank you.

Posted by: melinda | December 6, 2006 7:20 PM

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