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WB pix go broadband in Europe

Films hit the 'Net via Telecom Italia deal

In a first-of-its-kind deal, Warner Bros. will provide such hits as “The Matrix Revolutions” and “Mystic River” via broadband connections in Europe.

Warner Bros. Intl. TV Distribution recently signed the Movielink-like agreement with phone giant Telecom Italia, the fifth largest telco in Europe. Deal provides for the distribution of 100 movies a year via the telco’s Rosso Alice broadband portal.

Starting today, computer users with fast connections in Italy who subscribe to Rosso Alice will be able to purchase both new movies (most released on DVD just six months earlier) and Warner library titles.

The Hollywood major, along with rival studios, is talking to other cable and telco providers about similar arrangements in the rest of Europe. Such deals will pry open yet another ancillary revenue stream for Hollywood content — and offer, presumably, a cost-effective alternative to illegal downloads.

Under the just-inked two-year deal, Warner movies will be available in streaming mode for 24 hours following their purchase. They will be filtered to ensure that they are available only to Rosso Alice users.

New models

The financial and technological models for the deal are new and apparently provide for a minimum guarantee of subscribers and for the two partners to share the revenue from downloads, though the precise split was not made public.

By acquiring hit Hollywood movies, Telecom Italia is stepping up the competition with digital terrestrial networks operated by top national broadcasters Mediaset and RAI, as well as with Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia.

Deal also commits the two companies to increase cooperation in the fight against online film piracy.

“We recognize that there is considerable interest by consumers to view movies online via their PCs in a legal manner and not through illegal downloading,” said WBITD prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger. “As broadband’s penetration widens, it is important that we make our content available in a timely, easy-to-access, legitimate manner, while at the same time protecting our content rights in the digital space.”

Pricing varies depending on the pic: Recent films will cost $2.99; cult movies and classics will go for $1.99; and children’s pics will be priced at $1.50. Rosso Alice customers can either charge movies to their monthly phone bills or pay by credit card.

The Rosso Alice portal, inaugurated last March, already provides other content, including 200,000 songs, live events such as soccer matches and TV shows including “Big Brother.”

All content is accessible at the Rossoalice.it Web site.

Rosso Alice registered 2.5 million unique visitors in October. Telecom Italia had supplied 3.7 million broadband accesses by the end of September, 350,000 of which were outside Italy.

The Warner deal in Italy is thought to be nonexclusive, meaning the studio could license product to the country’s other broadband provider, E.biscom, as well.

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