Movie download service likely to bomb with users

Now you can legally grab popular Hollywood movies from the Internet, if you have a broadband cable or DSL connection and don’t mind a lot of inconvenience.

It’s a joint project by five major studios to provide a movies-on-demand venture called MovieLink ( It allows home Internet users to download films to their computer hard drives at prices between $1.99 and $4.99, with family classics such as “Charlotte’s Web.”

But slick isn’t enough.

For one thing, there are only 25 million broadband users in the United States right now. It’s going to take a long time for the numbers to reach critical mass for a marketing venture like this to succeed, if ever.

And you need the high speed of broadband to download movies. It would take eight to 12 hours to download over a dial-up phone modem like most people use.

That’s because of the sheer size of the movie files, around 500 megabytes each. Even with broadband, it will still take as long as 90 minutes to complete a download.

How many people are willing to wait that long? And how many want to watch a movie on their computer?

In an effort to prevent illegal copying, the movies will not play if sent to another computer. They’re also encrypted so you can’t copy them to a CD or DVD that could later be played on your TV set.

“They really haven’t thought this out very well,” says Lydia Loizides, a senior analyst who specializes in digital video and the Internet for the Jupiter Research marketing firm. “It’s not like popping a videotape or DVD into a player and turning on the TV. It’s a pretty involved process in downloading the movie and then playing it.”

The computer, says Loizides, is not an entertainment device like a television set. It’s a utility device, something people use to do specific tasks like writing a report, surfing the Internet or playing a game.

“Can you imagine a family of four gathering around a computer screen to watch a movie?” she asks.

The Hollywood studios, MGM, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros., hope she’s wrong. Movielink CEO Jim Ramo concedes the Internet is still in its infancy but hopes to turn a profit in five years.

Although she has doubts about MovieLink’s success in the short term, Loizides says the movie studios realize that they have to stake out Internet turf early to avoid the fiasco the music recording industry faced with file-swapping services like Napster.

And that’s already happening to a certain degree with movies, where file-swapping services like Morpheus ( or KaZaA ( hook individual users up to each other to exchange files 퀌� la Napster.

MovieLink has one other interesting restriction: while you have 30 days to begin watching your downloaded movie, once you start playing it, a 24-hour countdown begins. After that, the file will delete itself.

Sort of like the old TV show “Mission: Impossible,” which is just what I think MovieLink will turn out to be.