Movie studios are showing themselves increasingly willing to put their films up for sale and rental on the Internet—and not just through sites that they own or control. The most recent example comes from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which has just inked a deal with online video distributor GUBA. GUBA becomes the first “video sharing community” to get access to the Sony catalog of films, but don’t think that “sharing” means “free.”
GUBA plans to charge 20 bucks to download new features and a ten spot for films from the back catalog. Though the service initially has only 100 Sony films, this will be expanded to 500 within the next year. The films are protected by Microsoft DRM (sorry, Mac users), and they’re only viewable on a Windows computer (or an HTPC hooked up to a television). As is usual with this type of setup, no DVD burns will be allowed.
In some ways, GUBA is an odd choice for a Sony partner. Much of the site is a YouTube-style assortment of zany videos, which means that you can have a link to a man who can touch his eye with his tongue on the same page as the link to Underworld: Evolution. Such pairings can make the site feel a bit schizophrenic, but GUBA has done a good job of making it simple to look for either free or premium content.
GUBA has made quite a name for themselves the last few months. In addition to scoring the recent Sony deal, the site also announced a partnership with Time Warner in June. Warner, like Sony, has shown a willingness to experiment when it comes to Internet distribution, though they’ve been doing it longer than Sony has.
Warner already has a deal in place with one-time pariah BitTorrent. The plan to offer DRMed movies to users through BitTorrent’s efficient distribution system is a telling admission of the legal uses of peer-to-peer technology, though studio insistence upon strict DRM controls and a lack of DVD-burning options make the service no more attractibe than GUBA.
Warner has also been active in Europe, partnering with another peer-to-peer company there to offer movie downloads. Such moves are excellent news for consumers, but not for the reason you might expect. What’s exciting about the recent announcements is that they show the movie studios have learned their lesson from the music business and are determined to provide good legal alternatives to piracy right from the start.
Unfortunately, the actual services that have been rolled out are underwhelming unless you own an HTPC. Even then, they aren’t a great deal when you consider that picking up the DVD costs about the same price and offers more flexibility and portability. When movie studios finally discover the magic combination of price and DRM that makes their product compelling to consumers, online distribution could become a lucrative alternative to traditional retail. That day has not yet arrived.