Internet delivers video on demand

Movies: The Web allows companies to provide services that rival those of video stores or cable providers.

January 03, 2002|By David Hayes | David Hayes,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

For years, cable companies have promised to deliver movies and other entertainment when we want it, not when it's on their schedule. Telephone and media companies have made similar pledges.

A small, 5-year-old California company co-owned by Microsoft, Sony, NBC and Intel is delivering it - on the Web.

Intertainer Inc. began offering video-on-demand service over the Internet in October in 35 cities. The service requires an Internet connection running at 580 kilobits per second, which most cable modem and DSL services should provide.

Intertainer, founded by entertainment industry veterans, claims to have access to 70,000 hours of programming and rotates its programming weekly. It has forged a strong alliance with Microsoft, which is promoting the service to MSN customers in 35 cities as the company promotes its multimedia-heavy Windows XP.

Despite the hype, I really wasn't expecting much when I checked the service in November. Movies over the Net? On my computer screen? What's the point?

I came away ... well, perhaps not a convert but more or less impressed.

Intertainer is offering more than 100 movies online, with hits ranging from Driven to See Spot Run. Concerts include Madonna in Italy and several Hard Rock Live productions. Other offerings range from the Saturday Night Live 25th Anniversary Special to The Gumby Collection.

Here's what I found: Watching a movie on the 19-inch computer screen didn't bother me. Given a comfortable enough chair, screen size doesn't matter.

The picture quality was, overall, pretty good. The movies "streamed" into the Windows Media Player. When it's working at its best, the quality isn't DVD quality - but it's certainly better than what you'd see from a VCR. However, during times when the Net is congested, the picture tends to break up.

Then there's the "why" question: Why do it?

The easy answer, as it is for most technology, is "because we can." After all, Intertainer isn't offering us anything we can't rent at a video store.

But, unlike those video rental shops, there are no late fees, and Intertainer allows you to watch the program you purchased as many times as you want in 24 hours. It certainly beats late fees.

Intertainer offers new movies for $3.99, classics for $2.99, music concerts for 99 cents, and classic and children's television and specialty news programming starting at 75 cents. A $7.99-a-month fee gives free access to television, children's and health programming.

Music videos and movie trailers are free. It's on the Internet at www.Intertainer.com.

Intertainer isn't the only company offering video on demand. At www.SightSound.com, Sight-Sound Technologies offers movie downloads for $2.99 and $3.99. Downloads can take more than an hour but have higher quality than movies that are streamed. The downloaded movies expire after two days.

CinemaNow.com offers movie downloads and streams some independent films. Some movies are supported by advertising; others are pay-per-view.

For the really independent, at www.screenblast.com Sony is encouraging users to make and share videos, enhanced with outtakes from the Sony Pictures Entertainment library.

Although only about 10 percent of U.S. homes have broadband Internet service, most of those users live in the top 50 metropolitan areas. And that - together with the potential for growth - is catching the movie industry's attention.

That means there's more to come. Disney is partnering with 20th Century Fox on Movies.com. Sony, Paramount, MGM, Universal and Warner Bros. are behind another still-unnamed company with plans to launch this year. In the meantime, cable television companies aren't sitting still. Comcast launched its video on demand service in the Baltimore suburbs last month.

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