Miramax Films Inks Online Distribution Deal

Though the Internet is not quite ready for prime time — much less Hollywood — Miramax Films announced Tuesday that it will be offering selected movies over the Internet for consumers to rent or buy. The decision follows a recent announcement from MGM that it will be opening the doors of its huge film library to the Web.

Miramax entered a non-exclusive agreement with multimedia distribution company SightSound.com to make 12 full-length feature films available for download, with individual Web sites to be established for each movie.

SightSound.com will provide the technology and process online ordering for Miramax in exchange for a portion of the proceeds. According to SightSound, the movies will be available only in the United States.

Titles of the films that will be available have yet to be announced, but Miramax has a vault of hits, including Academy Award winners “Shakespeare in Love,” “Good Will Hunting,” “The English Patient,” and “The Piano.” Miramax is also the studio behind 1999 Best Picture nominee “The Cider House Rules” and the Quentin Tarantino cult favorite “Pulp Fiction.”

MGM’s Entry

Miramax is not the first Hollywood player to enter cyberspace. Legendary movie studio MGM, the owner of more than 4,100 classic movies and musicals, announced a plan in January to work with video rental chain Blockbuster, Inc. to make MGM movies available for download on the Net.

Under a non-exclusive agreement, Blockbuster will charge a fee for MGM movies delivered to viewers’ homes through digital streaming or downloads. The companies will share all revenues generated by the venture.

Rushing the Future

Neither Miramax nor MGM is likely to count any proceeds from Internet ventures as significant or reliable revenue sources this year. Instead, they are taking early steps toward what many in the entertainment industry believe is the inevitable future.

Though it has been bandied about in one form or another for 10 years, the fully integrated home entertainment and computer system — sometimes called the “smart home” — may actually be arriving soon. The missing piece is widespread availability of high-speed, high-capacity Internet access to make downloading times bearable, or streaming video watchable.

A host of companies — from mainstream giants like Microsoft to niche players like Kanakaris Communications, Inc. — have been working to perfect the technology to deliver bandwidth-heavy video with enough quality to make online movie viewing enjoyable.

Kanakaris launched downloadable movies and books on its KKRS.net site last summer, but has yet to persuade any major Hollywood studios to bring their marketing and acquisition power to the service.

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