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Independent film-makers waking up to DivX

Small beans at the moment, but there is movement

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Independent film-makers are waking up to the possibilities that DivX presents, with a joint announcement between DivX Networks and Strand Releasing threatening to spark an escalation in films available for hire over the Internet.

DivX Networks is the company behind the recent DivX 4.01 codec - a "legitimate" form of popular compression software in that it includes digital rights management. DivX enables DVD-quality films to be reduced to around 500-700MB. Strand Releasing is a film distribution company for independent film makers and has licensed the "DivX Open Video System" to sell a download of World and Time Enough.

The film, a gay comedy that won some award in 1995, costs $17.99 to buy on VHS but $4.95 to rent for five-days from Strand Releasing. Following along the same lines as the system announced by the big film studios a month ago, people can download the film over a broadband connection (take you around five to six hours) and it will be watchable for the next five days. Also, according to a press release put out, the film can be viewed "a few minutes after the download has begun" thanks to some "progressive download" technology.

We haven't tested the service as yet but if the Strand Releasing Web site is anything to go by, there's still some work to be done. Most of the site has still to be built. However, this is presumably a test case, using an old film, in order to grasp some of the problems with the system. It is also a demonstration by DivX Networks to the big film distributors that it can be trusted to offer a safe version of high-quality films.

This is all pretty small beans at the moment but the fact that such a system is up and running is bound to interest independent film makers whose main problem has always been distribution. Or, to put it another way, control of distribution is what has historically enabled film studios to have so much power over the entire activity of making and selling films.

The news comes shortly after two announcements by Hollywood that it was looking at releasing video on demand systems. One, as agreed to by Warner Brothers, Vivendi, Universal, Paramount and MGM is to use Sony proprietary software to deliver rental videos over the Net. It's called MovieFly.

And then, shortly afterwards, vague plans by Disney and 20th Century Fox to set up their own system were leaked. It will apparently be run through the Movies.com Web site. Or possibly over cable.

DivX Networks is going to have a hard time persuading the status quo to license its technology. It is already looking to build its own alternative empire (nose-spite-face). The market is up for grabs and it will interesting to see if DivX Networks has learnt enough lessons from the whole Napster/MP3 battle over the last two years. ®

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Strand Releasing

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