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Starz Offers Movie Download Service
January 3, 2006
Thomas Mennecke
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The authorized music download business has proven to be a tough market to crack, unless you go by the name of iTunes. While iTunes has prospered, its Napster counterpart (not to mention the other hundred or so services) is finding it difficult to gain traction. This oversupply of music services has yet to be mirrored in the authorized movie sector.

With an obvious void in authorized movie choices, it seems Starz Entertainment has decided to strike while the irons hot - even if it means sacrificing features in the name of recognition. The new Starz movie download service will offer 1,000 movie titles and a streaming service for $9.99 a month. Subscribers can download as many movie titles as they wish., a subsidiary of Starz Entertainment, administers the service.

So now we have the first viable mainstream movie download service. With scant competition, besides that pesky video iTunes store, what does Starz's Vongo mean to the average person?

Starz Vongo is structured similarly to the "Napster to Go" service. The end user can download as many films as he or she chooses, but like "Napster to Go", the individual must maintain the monthly account. If the customer doesn't connect to the Internet within 30 days of downloading the film, or doesn't renew the subscription - *poof* - the file disappears.

The subscriber can associate three authorized devices with the service. These devices include a personal computer, laptop or a portable media player. Ah, so you’ve finally found the justification to buy that video iPod right?

Not so fast, professor. Vongo is only compatible with devices that support Microsoft's Portable Media Center technology. Only three portable devices support this technology, the Creative Zen, the Samsung Yepp YH-999, and the iriver PMC-120. You can expect to spend anywhere in the $300-$400 price range for any of these products.

Prospects of brining Vongo to the iPod don't seem terribly promising, at least in the near future. "We've had discussions in the past with Apple,” Eric Becker, Executive Director of Corporate Communications for Starz told "At this time there is no definitive dialog."

Eric also told Slyck that no secretive agreement is being held back, but they are optimistic that future discussions may prove more fruitful. The big stumbling block at this time, as it's been for many other services, has been Apple's reluctance to open its Fairplay DRM technology.

Starz soon expects additional portable media devices to adapt Microsoft's PCM technology. For now, any PC or laptop with Windows Media Player 10 can utilize the service. The downloaded file is in WMS format, and is approximately 600-700 megabytes in size. Typical windows DRM restrictions coexist with the file. The subscriber can’t, at least legally, copy the file, transfer the file, download the file, upload the file, burn the file to DVD, or otherwise manipulate the file.

The major stumbling block to this service is its incompatibility with the iPod. As the premier MP3 and video player, it’s essential for Starz to discover a way to introduce iPod compatibility. From a business perspective it’s respectable that Starz launched their service early for word of mouth advantage. However the early advantage gained may be short lived when the video iTunes store ramps up their movie collection. Another consideration Starz must face is iTunes' policy of allowing the individual to own a download as opposed to merely renting for 30 days.

Vongo is a step forward for the authorized download business, but incompatibility issues continue to plague this industry from posing a serious threat to file-sharing’s dominance.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
Authorized Music Store :: Other
Technology News :: Software

You can read the press release here.

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