'Gangster' can be purchased through system

New company Popcorn Home Entertainment is allowing people to buy a DVD of “American Gangster” from home by switching to a video-on-demand channel and clicking on the title.

Digital-cable subscribers not only get the DVD of the movie in the mail within a few days but can start watching the movie on their TV at any time during the next 24 hours.

Steve Brenner, CEO of Popcorn and former president of the USA Network, said he has signed Universal and Warner Bros. to supply DVDs of movies day-and-date with their advent in the videostore. That’s a first for cable subscribers and an advantage for movie buffs, because the average pay-per-view/video-on-demand movie offering doesn’t become available to cable subscribes until 30-45 days after its debut at Blockbuster.

The test started last month on Cablevision Systems in greater New York, where about 2.6 million customers are now able to buy one of Popcorn’s DVD movies for a retail price of $19.95. Titles ready for purchase include “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “The Kingdom” and “Eastern Promises.” “Gangster” goes into the system on Feb. 19.

Brenner declined to discuss financial details, except to say that by far the biggest percentage of each $19.95 purchase would go to the major studio. The cable operator would take the next biggest slice, and Popcorn would collect the remainder.

“It’s an interesting experiment,” said Bruce Leichtman, head of his own new-media research company. “The service could work particularly well in rural areas, where you have to drive a long way to get to the local videostore.”

But if instant gratification is not an issue, Leichtman said, people willing to wait for mail delivery can order a new DVD of “Utimatum” from a website like Amazon.com at a discount. (Amazon has “Ultimatum” on sale for $16.99.)

One of Brenner’s pitches to cable operators is that Popcorn is not offering the VOD movies to satellite distributors, whose technology is not friendly to PPV orders of this kind.

Popcorn is negotiating with other major studios for their movies, and Brenner said his next goal is “to raise the money to advertise and market the product, letting people know where to find it and why it’s a great place to go for movies.”

Brenner has spent the last three years as a private consultant. Fom 2000-04, he was prexy-CEO of In Demand, the biggest distributor of PPV movies and events in the U.S. Before that, he served for 18 years at USA Network, rising to president.

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