For an industry that loves to talk, the major Hollywood studios are remaining oddly silent about plans to distribute movies over the Internet. But plenty is going on behind the scenes.
The Walt Disney Co. and Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment have taken the lead with separate initiatives, and each is looking for partners.
AOL Time Warners Warner Bros. is reportedly in discussions with Sony. News Corp.s 20th Century Fox is negotiating with Disney, according to an industry source. The general sentiment among studios is that by launching their own offerings, they can head off what many call the "Napsterization" of movies — massive swapping through high-speed pipes that can deliver movies quicker.
Sony would not offer details about its service, called Moviefly, but an executive close to the talks speculated it could launch by the end of the year. Visitors to the Moviefly.com Web site are told viewers will be able to download "hundreds of Hollywood hits" to their PCs.
Disney is expected to use its Movies.com Web site as the vehicle for its own movies-on-demand service, but the company declined to confirm a service is planned. Steve Wadsworth, president of Walt Disney Internet Group, would only say the company is "developing an appropriate platform and solution" for distributing content and is "talking to other players about how we can work together to make this work."
At least two other studios have taken major steps with video-on-demand through the Internet. Miramax Films has released the first of 12 feature-length films in conjunction with SightSound Technologies. A one-day rental costs $3.49.
Lions Gate Entertainment is releasing films on CinemaNow.com while simultaneously releasing them in pay-per-view venues such as hotels. The studio is a major investor in CinemaNow, which charges $2.99 per film.
The studios have a number of issues to consider before launching. Some are the thorny regulatory and copyright questions. Others are technical, like whether movies should be downloaded or streamed. Downloaded movies tend to be easier to watch than streamed versions, which may be interrupted by congestion on the Internet.
But Guinevere, the film Miramax released on the Net, is 469 megabytes in size, which means it could take roughly 30 minutes to download on a high-speed connection and hours more with a typical dial-up connection, according to Websense, which helps employers monitor their staffs Internet usage.
"I think anybody thats in this space is really partly crazy and partly waiting it out," says Robert Moskovits, chief operating officer at MovieFlix.com.