UK firm offers legal video downloads

Testing the water

A UK firm has started a video download service in the hopes of creating a viable commercial alternative to renting or buying DVDs. The service - BoxOffice365.com - which allows customers to download videos of VHS quality was launched in a trial version last week. So far only a handful of live comedy and music video services are available but the British Internet Broadcasting Company (BiBC), the firm behind the service, promises a significant content catalogue will be uploaded by the end of September.

Some of the content, such as The Sex Pistols' TV debut of Anarchy in the UK will be made available for purchase for the first time. The firm has signed publishing agreements with a number of publishers including V2, ITN, Laughing Stock. But only one film studio (Universal) has thus far signed an agreement. BiBC's founder, Paul Hague, admitted Hollywood has been reticent about offering legal downloads of films even though content is wrapped in copy protection technology to prevent unauthorised sharing.

Downloads are available on a "pay-as-you-go" basis with prices of between £1.50 for a music video, and £6.99 and upwards for a full DVD. That's more expensive than renting a DVD but BiBC hopes the convenience of not having to go to the shops will appeal to its potential customers. A trial allowed us to download Bob Marley, The Legend Live. As advertised it took 45 mins to download and the 500MB WMV file offered VHS-quality footage of the Reggae legend in his prime. The site was easy to use with IE but doesn't yet work on Firefox or on Macs. BoxOffice365.com techies are working on making the service - essentially still in beta - work with Firefox.com. The service offers downloads - not streaming media - so once punters download content they can view it offline as often as they like providing they don't try to do anything more than transfer content to one portable video device.

BoxOffice365.com wants to do for video downloads what iTunes did for legal music downloads. It's one of a small group of companies trying to change the way people enjoy films and video downloads. In addition to video-on-demand services and Digital TV services other innovative services are coming to market. Last month ISP Tiscali teamed up with production company Dogwoof Digital to launch British thriller EMR simultaneously on the internet, through DVD and with a limited theatrical release.

EMR is a psychological thriller about a man with epilepsy whose obsession with conspiracy theories takes him on a nightmarish journey. It evokes Jacob's Ladder but is not nearly as well executed though watchable nonetheless. It's available to download as a streaming media file via the Tiscali UK website for £2.50 (www.tiscali.co.uk/emr), and can be bought by DVD for £12.99. ®

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