Xbox to offer digital rentals for Disney movies

As the E3 confab opens, more studios are getting in on the videogame console action.

At its press conference Tuesday night, Microsoft disclosed that Disney will start offering its movies for digital rental via the Xbox Live Internet service. It’s the fifth studio to do so, along with Warner Bros., Paramount, Lionsgate and New Line.

As with other studios’ offerings, some Disney pics will be available for download in high definition. Xbox Live’s video marketplace, which lets users rent movies from the Net and play them back on a TV via the Xbox 360 console, is the only Internet videostore to do high-definition downloads. Overall, it’s the second-most successful behind Apple iTunes.

Sony is expected to announce a similar video download service for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable during its E3 press conference today. But insiders say it won’t launch until later this year or early next year. According to industry sources, Sony hasn’t yet closed content deals with any studios except its own Sony Pictures.

The main focus at E3, however, is on the games and the three major consoles that play them.

Despite numerous rumors to the contrary, Microsoft did not announce a price cut for the 360 Tuesday night following Sony’s $100 price cut for the PlayStation 3 on Monday. The standard PS3 now costs $499, with a new premium version at $599. The Xbox 360 costs between $299 and $479, depending on the features.

“We feel very comfortable at our price points given our lineup of games this holiday and the functionality of Xbox Live,” said Peter Moore, corporate veep of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business. “We think it bodes well that we are able to hold our price point for the third straight holiday.”

Moore also pointed to stats indicating that the Xbox 360 is driving industry revenue growth. The average 360 owner has spent $823 on consoles, games and accessories. That’s $300 more than owners of the original Xbox spent after it was on the market for the same amount of time: 20 months.

That statistic has been driven primarily by the high number of games 360 owners are buying. Moore pointed out that Xbox games made by third-party publishers have hit the monthly top 10 list in the U.S. 16 times. No third-party games for the Wii or PlayStation 3 have been in the top 10.

Nintendo’s Wii is, however, handily outselling the Xbox 360 month to month. And Moore admitted that Microsoft missed its target of shipping 12 million 360s by the end of June, instead hitting 11.6 million.

The higher rate of game sales but slower console sales for the 360 indicates that it is reaching more hard-core gamers, while the Wii is appealing to a broader audience.

In a clear response to that pattern, Moore said Microsoft is coming out with a 360 controller that, similar to the one for the Wii, resembles a TV remote. It will come packed with a new version of the “Scene It” movie trivia game, previously available on DVD, that Microsoft is releasing this holiday season for the 360.

Moore said Microsoft will develop many more games to work with the new, simpler controllers.

“We got the most desirable consumer to our box, and now this holiday we need to hold onto him and also provide simplified experiences that bring more people in,” he said.

Microsoft reps spent much of their press conference showing off its broad lineup of games for the next year that Moore confidently called “by far the best lineup I’ve ever seen for a holiday.” That includes some exclusive games such as “Halo 3,” “Mass Effect” and “Bioshock,” as well as several games that will also be on the PS3 and Wii, including “Rock Band” and “Grand Theft Auto IV.”

Sony and Nintendo are scheduled to hold their E3 press conferences this morning.

Separately on Tuesday, Activision said its “Spider-Man 3″ videogame has shipped a boffo 4 million units across all consoles from its May 4 debut through June 30. That makes it one of the bestselling games to come out in the first half of 2007.

“Shrek the Third” game, which came out May 15, has shipped a very strong 2 million units. And “Transformers: The Game,” which hit stores June 26, shipped 1 million units in just its first five days, putting it on track to be a bestseller as well.

Big sales figures came despite only so-so reviews for all three games, showing how powerful a studio’s marketing onslaught can be when it comes to driving vidgame sales.

As a result of the socko numbers for its movie tie-ins, as well as a solid 1 million unit perf for “Guitar Hero 2″ on the Xbox 360, Activision said its results for fiscal 2008, which ends next March, will exceed earlier guidance.

Shares in Activision closed up 4% at $19.17 Tuesday.

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