Several of Hollywood's major film studios will start using the Internet to send movies directly into homes within four to six months to tap new markets, a top movie industry official said Tuesday.
Jack Valenti, chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America which represents Hollywood's major studios, said at least three studios or more will begin offering movies that can be downloaded in a form of video-on-demand or pay-per-view type of service.
Valenti did not name specific companies, but in recent months published reports have surfaced over Sony Pictures Entertainment's tentative plans for downloading movies. Sony is a unit of Japan's Sony Corp.
At a recent meeting of financial industry analysts The Walt Disney Co. , which owns the Disney studio among its assets, also touted new wireless technology it was testing concerning downloadable movies.
"Within four to six months, several of our companies will be on line dispatching movies," Valenti told reporters at the annual ShoWest gathering of movie exhibitors here.
He said computer users will be able to download the films, then "burn" them onto a CD for playback on their PC. But the movies will be encrypted in a way that they can be played back only on the PC to which they were downloaded.
Downloading the films quickly, however, will require a high-speed "broadband" connection to the Internet and only 4 million to 5 million homes have such a connection now, Valenti said.
A movie can take up to 10 hours to download using a modem and telephone modem, but a broadband connection can reduce that time to more like 25 minutes, he said.
Given that few homes are equipped with broadband technology and the medium for downloading films is just emerging, Valenti said research and development into the emerging method for film distribution will continue.
Still, the development points to the rapid pace with which the movie industry is evolving and the way which the Internet and technology are pushing that change forward.
Movie studios are working feverishly to build robust computer systems that allow for movies to be downloaded while maintaining strong encryption against copyright pirates.
By moving fast, studios hope to avoid getting caught up in the same copyright infringement battle now rocking the music industry in its ongoing legal battle with Napster.
Napster and other peer-to-peer sites allow users to swap digital music files for free, bypassing royalty payments made to artists each time a CD is sold.
On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered Napster to remove songs from its online service within three days of being notified by record companies that copyrighted material was being swapped on the wildly popular site.
The studios are concerned that if they don't develop piracy-resistant business models for downloading digital copies of movies they, too, will become involved in a legal battles to protect online copyrights.