Studio makes feature films available for downloading

— Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. has launched an online movie delivery pilot, the first time a major Hollywood studio has offered the public feature film downloads over the Internet.

MGM teamed with CinemaNow Inc., an Internet cinema distributor, for the 30-day trial that features two motion pictures.

"The idea is to throw it out there and see what happens," Stacey Studebaker, a spokeswoman for MGM Home Entertainment in Santa Monica, said Wednesday.

MGM and several other leading studios already "stream" some films on the Internet. This also gives consumers the option of downloading copy-protected digital video files.

The downloads will offer higher quality playback but be programmed to prevent copying and will be playable for only 24 hours.

Hollywood faces daunting challenges in determining how to deliver movies to consumers over the Internet.

Slow connections are the least of them. It takes nearly 25 hours to download a 90-minute film using a dial-up modem and more than four hours with a broadband connection. But compression and delivery technologies are constantly improving.

The biggest obstacle is the threat of piracy. As part of the trial, MGM will test CinemaNow billing and security software, including electronic locks.

MGM is testing the waters cautiously with its latest venture. Of the two films the studio is offering, one was a box-office flop; the other has gathered dust in home video for years.

"What's the Worst that Could Happen?" was a critically savaged film starring Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito. It cost about $45 million to make and only earned $32 million before its December video debut.

"The Man in the Iron Mask" rode star Leonardo DiCaprio's "Titanic" success to a modest $57 million box-office success in 1998, but has been out on video for nearly three years.

MGM and CinemaNow will charge from $1.99 to $5.99 to view each film, depending on the connection speed and whether a viewer opts to stream or download the content from CinemaNow's site.


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