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Downloadable movies: Sony and Jaman

Jaman_logo_2 Paramount_logo Two announcements today about downloadable movies illustrate Hollywood's one-step-forward, one-step back approach to this market. Jaman, an online video-on-demand service that specializes in indie fare, announced a licensing deal with Paramount that gives the site its first major-studio content. It's a nice pick-up for Jaman, which distributes moves in part through a secure file-sharing network -- the kind of technique that was once a non-starter with Hollywood. But unlike the other films offered by Jaman, Paramount's titles won't be available in high definition. The restriction reflects the widespread aversion in Hollywood to sending high-def movie files to PCs -- you won't find high-def titles at Movielink, CinemaNow or Amazon's Unbox, either. Nor will the films be available to rent on Jaman as soon as they reach the local video store; instead, they'll have to wait several weeks for the video-on-demand window.

Sony_playstation_logo Intertrust_graphic The studios have been willing to provide high-def downloads to a handful of specialized living-room devices, such as the XBox 360 game console, the Apple TV, the Vudu box and now the Sony PS3. (Kudos to my colleagues Dawn Chmielewski and Alex Pham for breaking that story months ago.) On the plus side, the PS3 download service uses the Marlin DRM developed in part by Sony and Intertrust Technologies (a company that counts Sony as a major investor). Marlin, which is designed to interoperate with other DRMs, can grant playback rights to a set of personal devices. Initially, Sony will use it to let people move downloaded films and TV shows from their PS3s to their PSPs. What it won't do, though, is let people move the programs they rent or buy to their laptops or desktop PCs -- at least not right away. That's a galling omission, particularly for download-to-own titles. Marlin DRM licenses can be updated remotely, so if Sony changes its mind and allows movies to be transferred onto computers, the new flexibility can be applied retroactively to movies already purchased. But even if Sony does relax the restrictions, high-def titles probably won't be allowed outside the PS3-PSP-TV world. That begs the question of why anyone would buy a title when the only way to preserve the bits is to tie up scarce space on the PlayStation's hard drive.

Sony's CEO, Sir Howard Stringer, has made interoperability and connectivity a priority for the company. In fact, he pledged last month that 90% of Sony's product categories would include devices with networking capability within three years. It will be interesting to see how Sony meshes that goal with its high-definition evangelizing and its studio's reservations about the PC.

Nifty "Trust" illustration courtesy of the Intertrust website.

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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