Deals keep congloms on Web wave

You’ve got movie.

AOL is jumping into the downloadable movie game, announcing Thursday that it will make available pics from Universal, Fox and the homevid units of Sony and Warner Bros. for paid download on its recently launched AOL Video portal.

Netco is bowing with a relatively small number of movies, with a goal of ramping up to include several hundred over the next few months, execs said.

Movies will be priced mainly at three levels — $9.99, $14.99 and $19.99 –depending largely on a pic’s popularity and age.

Most films will be available in the homevid window, though execs said they may negotiate one-off deals for pics in earlier stages of release.

Among the expected inaugural titles are newer films like “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,” “Spider-Man 2” and “The Inside Man” and older titles such as “The Poseidon Adventure” and “Ben Hur.”

Execs said they’re in negotiations to offer films from Disney and other studios, though AOL could have a hard time convincing the Mouse House: With Steve Jobs now on the board of directors, Disney may have reason to focus more heavily on iTunes.

AOL also announced Thursday that it’s beefing up its television content on AOL Video; site will sell episodes of Fox shows such as “24” and “Prison Break,” cable skeins including “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and older Fox-owned shows such as “Hill Street Blues.”

Fox deal marks first time AOL has inked with a broadcast net.

AOL on Thursday also said it has signed a deal with Sony that will allow it to make available free classic television shows such as “Starsky and Hutch” and “SWAT” — complementing AOL’s In2TV service, which specifically offers free classic TV shows from Warner Bros.

Sony deal continues to thicken the dossier of new and older series on the Net as studios look to monetize libraries while networks hope to gain an edge in turning new series into breakout hits.

Movie announcement is a coup for AOL, as it beats several competitors, especially iTunes, at their own game. Jobs’ iTunes has been in active negotiations with studios for several months, but the sides have reportedly been unable to come to terms over price.

AOL execs declined to offer specifics on its deals, but the Netco’s three tiers of pricing accommodates studios’ desire for flexible pricing; Jobs generally prefers flat pricing.

But it remains to be seen whether consumers will spark to downloadable movies. Services such as Movielink and CinemaNow have struggled as consumers have proved reluctant to spend $20 for a movie that can’t be burned to DVD.

For their part, AOL execs hope their brand and reach can affect a cultural shift. “We’re in a position where we can nurture and foster the behavior of watching longer-form content,” Josh Freeman, veep of AOL Video, told Daily Variety.

The set of moves marks a shift of sorts for AOL, which on its larger portal has been focusing on original content, notably deals for the original Mark Burnett series “Gold Rush” and a group of comedy series from Ashton Kutcher shingle Katalyst Films.

Company also seems to be staking out its own ground in online television. While iTunes, Google, MSN, Yahoo! and the nets offer a raft of current shows, AOL is looking to become a catalog service for older series that are more difficult to find on other platforms.

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