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Disney Dumps MovieBeam VOD Pilot

Michael Harris
Michael Harris

The LA Times reported today that Walt Disney Co. is shutting down its MovieBeam service trial that launched in September 2003 in three markets -- Jacksonville, Fla., Salt Lake City and Spokane, Wash. While Disney's concept of leapfrogging cable operators to deliver video-on-demand (VOD) services through a trickle-stream data path to a DVR-like set-top box has merit, the implementation of MovieBeam was moronic. MovieBeam offers subscribers a choice of 100 films (with 10 new movies per week) from major Hollywood studios. The content is transmitted via over-the-air signals of local ABC and PBS stations to a digital set-top in the home with a 160-gigabyte hard drive. Subscribers pay $8.99 a month to rent the box and then $1.99-$3.99 for each movie. With Blockbuster and NetFlix offering unlimited DVD rentals for under $20 a month, the MovieBeam pricing model was unrealistic. And, the requirement that consumers install yet another box in their entertainment center is too high a hurdle. The obvious approach is to simply feed a box that is already there, whether it's a Tivo or satellite DVR set-top, through a broadband IP connection. Tivo announced just such a deal with NetFlix seven months ago, but there's no consumer service offering yet. In January the 2Wire-SBC-Yahoo!-Dish team announced plans to offer an integrated satellite DVR set-top and broadband DSL home networking gateway to support VOD. And EchoStar is readying its own DVR-VOD solution called Dish on Demand. Like MovieBeam Dish will download up to 100 movies (albeit via satellite) and store them on the set-top for subscribers, making the films accessible on an on-demand basis. With no extra box or rental fees required, and the interface integrated into a consumer's existing TV service, the DISH offering could be a winner. MovieBeam may be dead, but the threat to cable from alternate VOD providers is alive and kicking.

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