January, 2003


Movielink to the Bedroom? 

by Ken Pyle


As readers may recall, my attempt to follow up on my November review of the Movielink service was met with disappointment, as chronicled in the December issue of the Viodi View. For several weeks in December, the Movielink service must have thought San Jose was in Costa Rica, not California. The service, which allows users to download titles from five of the major studios onto their computers, kept suggesting that I was outside the United States every time I tried to access its web site.

I am happy to report the service works once again and that I think I may have discovered a new segment where this service could potentially find some success - "The too cheap to put a television in the bedroom" market segment. Before I get ahead of myself, the reason for doing this review was to conclusively determine whether or not an Internet connection was required when actually viewing the movie. The short answer is that once the movie is downloaded (which takes between 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on connection speed), a connection to the Internet is not required.

Since I was watching the movie at home this time, I thought I would take advantage of a clever device that converts a VGA output to an unlicensed wireless signal. Another box, which connects to a television, transforms the wireless signal into NTSC video. Unfortunately, my lap-top computer seems to have difficulty driving external devices like this, so that plan didn't work.

These difficulties led to plan B, which was to bring the lap-top to bed. Since Jane, my wife, has complained for years about not having a television in the bedroom, I thought this would be a great no-cost alternative. The only downside to this plan that I could see was that I would not be able to work while viewing the movie. Jane commented on my plan saying, "that it was ridiculous to watch a movie on a computer", but, fortunately for me, she is a great sport.

We watched the 94 minute, 1995 Universal release, Mallrats. This was a movie carried by the dialog and there wasn't much in the way of fast-action scenes. Jane commented that it was blurry. Additionally, we experienced numerous freeze-frames. Sometimes we would lose dialog during the freeze frames, which ruined a few punch lines. Even though I had the ability to rewind these scenes, I found it was inconvenient to leave "full screen" mode on Real Player and use the rewind bar.

In the end, we offer a mixed review of this idea of watching a Movielink movie in the bedroom. Jane isn't too enthusiastic about the prospect, mainly because her back was sore from sitting in one place for a 90 minute movie (next time, I guess I could hold the lap-top). As to the question of whether we will use this service again for this application, we might. The better application for this service, however, still appears to be for the frequent traveler.

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Follow-up to November's Review of Movielink 

(From the December issue of the Viodi View) 

Last month’s review of the new Internet movie on demand service, Movielink, prompted several comments from readers. As a result, I attempted to dig deep through my seldom accessed wallet to find another $1.99 to watch a movie. Learn of the new and subtle things I learned about this new and potentially disruptive entertainment service……..

So, just as I was about to write the follow-up to last month’s review, I received Movielink's email newsletter indicating the new titles for the month. I recognized the names of most of the titles which include recent movies, like “Spiderman”, “Enough”, “The Sum of All Fears”, as well as older titles, such as “Mr. Deeds”, “Platoon” and “American Pie”. This approach of sending a newsletter about once a month to remind the Movielink subscriber of the new offerings could end up being a pretty effective marketing tool.

Unfortunately, when I clicked on either one of the categories (their home page) or a specific title, I received an error message indicating that the Movielink service “is presently unavailable to users outside of the United States.” I guess the People’s Republic of San Jose is now considered a different country. This must have been a service error, as it occurred on several different computers (admittedly, these computers were on the same network). A colleague joked that it must be the non-American brand computers I use.

The reason for my curiosity is that I was told by a few people after my last review, that one must be connected to the Internet the first time a movie is viewed. My understanding from reading the terms and conditions was the only time one had to be connected to the Internet was during download process and the first time one used the service. Of course, now I can’t even get to the terms and conditions, because the web site thinks I am some hacker beyond the border. So, the answer to this question will have to wait until next month.

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A Cheapskate's Review of Movielink

(From the November issue of the Viodi View) 

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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