Movielink Bolsters Its Cinematic Lineup


Movielink, the four-month old Internet download movie service owned by most of the major Hollywood studios, is branching out, adding content from Artisan Entertainment Inc. and creating a special foreign-language movie section.

Artisan is the first studio without an ownership interest to provide product to Movielink. The Web-based service is owned by Sony Corp., Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

Movielink CEO Jim Ramo said the content additions are a natural outgrowth of the service's maturation.

"We're now talking to everybody about licensing," he said, including Hollywood's two remaining large-studio holdouts, The Walt Disney Co. and Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.

In addition to the Artisan deal, Movielink today will launch a foreign film section, carrying five to 10 titles each month from India, China and South Korea, for instance. In the coming months, Movielink also will add an independent films section to its web site.

On the technology front, Ramo announced that Movielink will wrap its arms around the new media players from Real Networks Inc. and Microsoft Corp., namely RealPlayer 9 and Windows Media Player 9.

"And we'll be delivering in wide-screen format," Ramo said.

Overall, Ramo said he's pleased with Movielink's progress.

"We had some assumptions going into the business, and some were reinforced and we found some surprises," he said.

Among the surprises: Ramo said Movielink's primary audience has consisted of men aged 25 to 49, a slightly older audience than the company envisioned. One reason is that much of the word about the service has been confined to news accounts from the business press, as opposed to advertisements on MTV: Music Television.

Hand in hand with that older audience is the usage rate among travelers. About half of Movielink customers are viewing movies on their desktops, but close to 40 percent are using laptops, Ramo said. About 60 percent of those using laptops use them on the road.

"We expected that application, but we didn't know the size of that application," Ramo said.

The remainder of users downloaded films for transport to another device, including the TV set, he said.

Ramo declined to give specific overall usage or buy rate-information, but did say purchases are akin to the early days of satellite pay-per-view systems and better than traditional cable PPV. (Ramo knows the satellite PPV business, having been an executive at DirecTV Inc. throughout the 1990s.)

Movies with a big box-office take, a brand-name star and lots of action do very well, he said. The movie list, now at 250 titles, is growing as more library titles are mixed in with new product.

The site sported an Oscars subcategory, leading up to the March 23 Academy Awards telecast. And Movielink has added a search function, so customers can find films from their favorite actors and actresses.

Movielink continues its discussions with broadband players, including cable operators, about linking the company's built-for-broadband service with the cable-modem platform, said Ramo.

"People treat it like an e-commerce site rather than a browsing-eyeball site," he said. Thus, affiliate conversations are directed more at cable Internet-service providers than narrowband or portal services like America Online, Yahoo! or MSN.

"Those guys generally want to get eyeballs, and they may not be our first and best affiliates to us," he said. "Our marketing is targeted to broadband usage.

"It doesn't do us any good to get our brand in front of dial-up customers. We are having conversations with cable operators about adding this application."

Movielink would benefit from the marketing help — and perhaps a reduction in transport costs — while the cable operator could get a piece of the action, he said.