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Downloads feel the burn

Will burning boost online pic sales?

Downloadable DVDs are getting their first test on the Net, as CinemaNow is set to start testing today a technology allowing users to burn downloaded movies onto a DVD.

The industry is hoping the technology will provide a boost to the online movie sales biz, which insiders say has been slow since its March launch in part due to restrictions that prevented transfers from PCs.

CinemaNow and its major competitor, Movielink, along with the big studios, had been waiting for industry group DVD Forum to approve changes in the antipiracy protection on DVDs in order to enable burning.

But CinemaNow, along with studio partners Disney, Lionsgate, MGM, Sony and Universal apparently got tired of waiting. Netco will utilize antipiracy technology from German company ACE that it is already using to enable burning of adult films it sells from Vivid Video.

“The No. 1 question I get from consumers is why they can’t burn DVDs of movies they download so they can watch them in their living room,” CinemaNow CEO Curt Marvis said.

Several studio execs characterized the launch as a test of the technology, which is why they are only making a little over 100 library titles available to burn. They noted that launching without the approval of the DVD Forum — comprising major electronics manufacturers along with studios — could spur the group to approve an upgraded version of the CSS antipiracy technology currently used on discs, which most hackers can easily break. Ultimately, studio sources said they would prefer to use an improved version of CSS.

“We think it’s very important that the electronic distribution business get off the ground, and burning will make it a much more compelling offering for consumers,” said Universal vice chairman-exec VP Rick Finkelstein.

Movielink has already licensed software to enable burning from Sonic Solutions — a fact that it publicly announced Monday in an attempt to generate press before the CinemaNow launch — but is waiting for the DVD Forum to approve antipiracy technology before it offers burning to the public, CEO Jim Ramo said.

Studios are eager to enable burnable downloads not just to boost online moviestores but also to enable more sales at physical retailers.

Stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart are expected to launch kiosks allowing shoppers to download and burn a DVD that isn’t in stock.

“When the largest retailer maybe has 4,000 SKUs and the aggregate video libraries of the studios are much bigger, it’s great to have other ways to access content,” noted Ben Feingold, prexy of Sony Pictures home entertainment, digital distribution and acquisitions.

Up to now, Internet downloads have included a film with no extra content. But for movies that consumers can burn, CinemaNow will offer the exact same content as on the retail DVD, including menus and bonus features. Buyers can even download and print a cover to insert in a jewel case.

For now, users will be able to burn only one copy of a DVD — a restriction Marvis said he hoped will loosen soon. Online musicstores typically allow three CD burns.

Most library titles cost between $9 and $15 to download.

Ability to burn DVDs should help other e-tailers expected to launch Internet moviestores by the fall, including and Apple iTunes.

A report on Apple insider Web site ThinkSecret indicated that iTunes may start offering online movie rentals, but not permanent downloads, next month. Several studio sources said that’s unlikely, however, as Apple CEO Steve Jobs is focused on download-to-own.

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