Time Warner is leaving no stone unturned in its experiments in online video sales. After last month’s BitTorrent distribution announcement, the studio has now followed up with another nontraditional video reseller known as Guba. Time Warner has released an initial batch of about 200 TV episodes and feature movies, including The Matrix, Good Night, and Good Luck, Babylon 5, and The Flintstones. The selection is expected to grow over time.
For many years, Guba.com has provided a simple way to access videos from Usenet discussion groups. For US$15 a month, the service used to let you categorize, organize, and transcode Usenet videos for your viewing pleasure. If you’re thinking about viewing pleasure of the more adult variety, that branch of the operation was spun off into sister site Skin Video last year. What remains under the Guba banner is pretty clean, and the staff is scrubbing it daily to keep it that way.
The separation of standard and adult fare created a much more family-friendly main site, and was most likely a big reason why Guba is able to land major mainstream distribution pacts now. Guba CEO Tom McInerney says that deft negotiations and technical know-how did the rest of the heavy lifting:
“We treated the studios with respect, we listened and were responsive to their needs. Our proprietary technology gave the studios confidence that we could protect their copyrighted material and that our user-generated content could exist side by side with their premium content.”
In technical terms, these videos are provided in DRM-protected WMA format only, under Microsoft’s PlaysForSure protection scheme. Customers have a choice of 24-hour rentals for $1.79-2.99 depending on the video, or download to own with a price tag of $9.99 to $19.99. You can transfer the files to one PlaysForSure-capable portable device and two computers, but cannot burn standard DVDs. You can start watching while you download, and the bitrate tops out around 1,300 Kbits/second.
The Warner videos form a new, “premium” tier of content on the Guba site that has nothing to do with the old $15 monthly fee. It’s interesting to note that the section isn’t called anything like “Time Warner Premium Videos,” which may hint at future additions from other studios as well. You pay per video, with no recurring charges (unless you want to extend an existing rental). Reuters incorrectly states that “Guba users already pay $15 a month,” but in reality only the adult content will cost you anything. The non-porn Usenet videos are still around, at no charge or even any requirement to open a (free) account.
Does this mean that Time Warner is putting their movie catalog onto Usenet, wrapped in DRM? Well, no. Bart Myers, VP of Operations for Guba, told me that the studio’s video content is wrapped in DRM and then stored in Guba’s own data warehouse, which is entirely separate from the public Usenet. In short, Guba is not uploading anything to the public ‘Net, copy-protected or not. The site’s user-contributed videos are handled the same way, except for missing the billing component. Those clips are free for the taking.
Today’s release is hardly earth-shattering, but it offers another bit of evidence that some studios seem to understand the value of online distribution, and once again it’s Kevin Tsujihara’s merry men at Time Warner Home Entertainment that put their best foot forward. I keep saying that Warner and Disney look likely to lead the charge into the digital future, and they keep blazing the trail. Keep on trucking, boys!