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U, Lovefilm blaze trail in U.K.

Duo pacts on download-to-own service

LONDON — Universal Pictures U.K. has pacted with Europe’s leading online DVD rental outfit Lovefilm to launch the U.K.’s first download-to-own service.

Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” toplines 35 Universal titles that will be made available to download and own when the ground-breaking service launches April 10.

Under the “3-copy model” pioneered by U and Lovefilm, customers are offered two permanent digital files — one for PC and the other for portable devices — and a DVD through the mail all for one price. “King Kong” will debut for £19.99 ($35) with other titles priced at £9.99 ($17.46).

A download only service is not available with both orgs stressing that their independent exhaustive research has revealed that consumers are still eager to own a physical hard copy on DVD. Explaining the logic of bundling, Mark Livingstone, Lovefilm CEO, asserted that “people do want various versions of a legitimate product … consumers like the reassurance of a physical copy.” The DVD will be mailed by first-class post the same day as the online download is purchased.

The initiative will change the landscape of film content consumption in the U.K. significantly. Currently, video on demand services through the pay-per-view TV window offer consumers the opportunity to watch content three months after DVD release. This joint venture between Universal Pictures U.K. and Lovefilm offers the consumer feature films to own on the same date as the DVD release.

“Download-to-own has the potential to completely revolutionize the way people watch movies. The entertainment industry is changing quickly, with the introduction of new delivery channels to consumers and an emphasis on instant access. We are de-lighted to enable more people to access Universal content in such a unique and flexible way,” said Peter Smith, prexy, Universal Pictures International. Universal is exploring similar alliances in other key European territories.

Lovefilm has been offering temporary film downloads through AOL after the two pacted in February 2006 and 20,000 people have already registered to download. The new U/Lovefilm DTO service will also be available at http://www.lovefilm.com and http://www.aol.co.uk.

Other U titles that will be available on April 10 include 2005 Brit box office hits “Nanny McPhee” and “Pride & Prejudice,” and online geek faves “Serenity” and “Doom.”

The technology for the service is provided by Arts Alliance Media, parent company of Lovefilm, which has recently com-pleted phase one installation of the rollout of the U.K. Film Council’s ambitious Digital Screen Network.