U France, TF1 team on download service

Pact launches Gaul's first online movie purchase site

PARIS — Universal Pictures Video France has pacted with TF1 Vision, a subsid of Gallic broadcaster TF1, to launch Gaul’s first movie download-to-own service, companies announced Thursday.

The Hollywood major launched a similar service in the U.K. in April.

In France, some 35 titles, including catalog and more recent fare, will be available to consumers from July 6, rising to 150 by the end of the year.

“King Kong,” the service’s first new title, will be available day-and-date with the over-the-counter DVD from Aug. 1.

TF1 Vision is one of several Gallic sites offering video-on-demand, with some 2,000-odd catalog titles available for temporary download.

As in the U.K., customers of Universal’s French download-to-own service will receive two permanent digital files, one for the PC and the other for portable devices, as well as a DVD by mail.

In France, the prices are slightly cheaper, from $12.57 for a catalog film to $25.15 for a new release, compared with $17.46 and $35 in the U.K.

Universal Pictures Video topper Pauline Grimaldi is optimistic the service will succeed in Gaul, where consumers prefer to buy rather than rent movies.

“French people will appreciate the simplicity and the rapidity of download-to-own,” Grimaldi predicted.

At its peak, the rental market represented around 8%-10% of video/DVD business in Gaul.

France’s restrictive shop opening hours limited the growth of video clubs in Gaul, while the widespread sale of DVDs in French hypermarkets and the strength of Canal Plus’ movie-led premium channel, which shows films a year after their theatrical release, also depressed the rental market.

Universal’s new service launches at a time when the Gallic video biz is not in good shape, with sales for the first five months of the year down 12% from last year.

France’s restrictive windows, which keep DVD releases at a minimum of six months from theatrical release, mean sales tend to replicate theatrical biz from the previous half.

Therefore, a good B.O. for the first half of 2006, expected to be up around 15%, should translate into a better second half for DVDs.

Within France’s windows system, Universal’s download-to-own service is categorized as video-on-demand, which sets it at a minimum 7 ½ months after theatrical.

The VOD window comes up for review at the end of this year, when Universal will try to have its download-to-own service reclassified as DVD.

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