November, 2002


A Cheapskate's Review of Movielink

by Ken Pyle


Anyone who knows Ken Pyle, knows that I am generally not an early technology adopter and I am, what some would call, parsimonious.  So, I felt pretty proud to announce my use of the Movielink service at last week’s TelcoTV conference.  As you will recall, Movielink made a big publicity splash last week with their soft-launch. 

In a nutshell, it works.  It is not, however, ready for the couch potato and, in my opinion, will have limited value, in its current form, to most adults who want to watch a movie at home.  Teenagers will probably have the patience to go through the ordering process, but probably won’t for various reasons.  It could find success serving niche applications, such as providing an entertainment alternative for the frequent traveler.  Of course, that’s why the service was originally named, “Moviefly”. 

I could easily envision downloading several movies in advance of a long business trip.  With prices from $1.99 to $4.99, this service is much more reasonable than the in-room, hotel window content alternative.  The service's most current titles are in the same licensing window as cable pay per view. In addition to recently released titles, there are a number of older, library titles. The video and audio quality of the title I purchased was quite good, although there were a few times when the frame froze for a brief time.  The quality of the video wasn’t objectionable, however.

The service is fairly intuitive with very clear instructions.  As it is computer based, the registration and ordering is a little more complex than with a television-based VOD system.  One of the problems with any existing PC-based VOD scheme is the need to download some form of proprietary software.  In this case, a software program to manage the content must be downloaded.  I suspect that most people are nervous about downloading any kind of software to their computer.  I probably wouldn’t have done this download had I not had the professional interest. 

After going through the log-in process, the actual movie took approximately 2.5 hours to download over a DSL connection (which generally runs around 400 kb/s, although I did not measure the speed during the download process).  The software has a resume feature, such that if the connection is lost or a hard-drive is full, the software will resume loading from the point in time in which the connection was lost or hard-drive ran out of space.  This feature works, as I ran out of hard-drive space during the download.  Once I cleared space on my hard-drive, it finished loading without a problem and resumed where it had stopped.

Some other nuances of the process and the service include:

·         A user can begin viewing the movie within a 30 day period after the start of the download from the Movielink site.  This is probably academic, but if it took a day to download, a user would effectively only have 29 days in which to view the movie.

·         A typical movie requires 500 to 700 megabytes of hard-drive space. 

·         High-speed Internet access is mandatory for the downloading of titles. 

·         The viewer's computer must be connected to the Internet, I believe, the first time the service is used.  I found out that this connection doesn’t have to be a high-speed Internet connection, as I only had dial-up access when I played the movie for the first time.

·         What I didn’t have was the latest version of the player software.  Fortunately, the download was easy and was only small enough such that it took about ten minutes.  This counts losing the dial-up connection a couple of times.  Fortunately, this software has a resume function, so I didn’t have to reload it from scratch after losing my tether to the etherworld. 

·         Once a title is played, then the title must be viewed within 24 hours.  During that period, a viewer may watch it as many times as she likes.  Additionally, the service offers full trick-functionality (pause, rewind, fast-forward). 

·         Once the 24-hour period is over, the movie automatically deleted from the hard-drive. 

·         This service is strictly for use by people located in the U.S.  The eight page Terms and Conditions document is a good primer on the types of restrictions the studios place on their affiliates and the subscribers of a VOD service.  It was not clear to me, after a quick pass at this agreement, whether a user would be able to rent a movie in the U.S., and then legally watch it outside the U.S.   Please let me know if you want the link to these terms and conditions by sending an email to this address [email protected].    

·         The marketing of this service will be interesting.  Each studio sets the retail price for their titles.  The current web site provides a very straight-forward guide for viewing what is available.  Trailers are available on most titles and background information seems to be available on all titles.  The trailers are streamed on demand and the quality is quite good.  It was interesting that I was able to view the trailer with no problem, but I had to download an update of my media player to actually view the title.

·         I was surprised that there were no trailers either cross-promoting the service or other titles available on the service (like is done in home video), prior to the feature title.  There may have been a trailer after the end of the title, but I didn’t have time to finish the movie and didn’t think to fast-forward to the end of the movie. 

·         It will be interesting to see what Movielink does to create a “sense of urgency” for customers to get them to order movies.  I didn’t feel any sort of urgency and would have probably skipped out of the site, had it not been for my presentation at TelcoTV.  There were a couple of options asking whether the user wants; 1) promotional material, etc. from Movielink, 2) promotional material from the individual studios.  It will be interesting to see what materials they send. 

·         To be fair, this is a soft-launch.  I am sure we will see a big marketing push in the next few months over multiple media channels. In fact, a week after ordering my first movie, Movielink sent a survey asking very detailed questions regarding their user interface, their promotional efforts and my overall experience with their service. This survey was surprisingly detailed, as it even asked the participant to watch several different trailers and judge which was more effective.

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