Lionsgate, Apple pact for iPod play

Studio's films can now be copied onto device

Lionsgate has become the second studio to allow its movies to be copied from DVDs onto iPod devices.

Although several studios have started experimenting with digital copies of discs — a strategy considered an important hedge against pirated downloads — Fox was previously the only one to have struck a deal with Apple allowing copies through its popular iTunes service. Technology allows users to quickly copy a pic for viewing on their computer, video iPod or television hooked up to Apple TV.

Lionsgate will begin offering iTunes copies with the latest “Rambo,” due on standard disc and Blu-ray on May 27, and “The Eye,” due later this year. More are expected later in 2008.

Fox, the first studio to release a digital copy with “Live Free or Die Hard” in November, brokered its deal with Apple in January, with “Family Guy Presents: Blue Harvest” the first offering under the accord.

Today it releases “Hitman,” its second with an iTunes copy and first release with a copy embedded on the Blu-ray version. “Juno” discs, due April 15, also will have embedded iTunes copies.

Warner, Sony and Universal also have offered digital copies on disc for some of their recent hits, but these copies cannot be viewed on iPod devices or Macs.

At this point, the number of digital copies being activated is relatively small — tens of thousands out of the millions of discs typically sold for hit titles — but homevid execs consider the option extremely significant on a strategic basis: These sanctioned copies are designed to forestall piracy and lure more customers into trying digital downloads in the future.

DVD sales are eroding but still dwarf the digital download and online rental businesses. Apple recently inked deals with several majors to allow online rentals of their movies in the traditional video-on-demand window, but so far, only Disney allows iTunes purchases of new releases — and that arrangement is an outgrowth of the studio’s relationship with Apple topper Steve Jobs courtesy of Pixar. Lionsgate catalog titles and copies of “Weeds,” the skein it produces for Showtime, are available for purchase via iTunes.

Steve Beeks, prexy and co-chief operating officer of Lionsgate, called the Apple digital copy option “a perfect example of how packaged media and new digital technology can work hand in hand” to benefit consumers, noting that consumers are “always looking for new viewing options” for the movies they purchase in various formats.

Under the Apple iTunes arrangement, each DVD will only allow a copy to one iTunes library. An iTunes account is required.

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