MovieBeam Redux

Cliff Edwards

If at first you don't succeed...
A lot of people who thought the MovieBeam video service had been left in a pile of dead tech ventures apparently guessed wrong. The former Disney venture is getting new life, thanks to $48.5 million in investments from Cisco, Intel, two big venture capital firms and Disney. The companies announced today MovieBeam will be immediately available in 29 major metro areas.

For those whose memories are a bit fuzzy, MovieBeam piggybacks on the PBS broadcast signal to deliver titles wirelessly to a dedicated box. Disney rolled out the service in three cities in 2003, but it didn't catch on because other studios were reluctant to contribute to a rival's venture. Consumer also had to pay for a box, then pay a monthly subscription fee. What's more, no one had ever heard of "datacasting," the over-the-air technology that delivers pre-selected titles to the box instead of letting you using the Internet to search for them.

This time around, MovieBeam execs say you'll get hit movies on the same day they're released on DVD in stores and that most major studios have signed on (though a press release doesn't say which ones exactly).

Will it work this time around? Seems like a pretty small niche to me: Couch potatoes who don't want to run to Blockbuster or wait for Netflix mail deliveries, but who are willing to head over to Best Buy, plunk down $249 for a box, pay a $29 activation fee, then fork over $3.99 for each new-release title viewed ($4.99 to see it in HD).

The model gets more interesting to me, though, because of the Cisco and Intel investments. Cisco makes no secret of the fact that it plans to use its Scientific Atlanta and Linksys units to take a greater role in the digital livingroom. And Intel is working hard to have its Viiv entertainment pc platform become an essential ingredient in the home.

MovieBeam could be rolled into either of these concepts, though I still wonder how it differentiates itself from CinemaNow and a slew of on-demand content deals being struck by all the major players in Hollywood and techdom.

Sure, some people may just want to watch movies, but will they want another box to do it when Netflix' queue-and-forget model delivers much the same functionality?

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