AOL to sell digital movie downloads

Deals with major Hollywood studios mean surfers will get access to full-length films via AOL's video site.

AOL is adding digital movie downloads from several studios to its video site and providing more on-demand TV shows.

The company said on Thursday that it has cut deals with several movie studios--Twentieth Century Fox Film, Universal Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Bros. Entertainment--to make full-length movie downloads and related content available on its AOL Video site.

Any visitor to the video portal, not just AOL members, can get a movie download, with titles ranging in price from $9.99 to $19.99. Other film-related content, like trailers and outtakes, can often be streamed for free, AOL said.

The move is part of the Time Warner subsidiary's effort to transform itself from an Internet service provider into a Web-based media company. For the Hollywood studios, faced with digital piracy of their products, it is an acknowledgment of the need for online distribution.

"Viewing online digital content is no longer an esoteric pastime," Benjamin Feingold, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, digital distribution and acquisitions, said in a statement. "Online programming services like AOL's video portal have the potential to become a major distribution stream for consumer entertainment and a viable revenue source for Hollywood."

While on-demand movie services like CinemaNow and Movielink have been around for a while, the buzz over online film downloads has surged recently, with rumors of Amazon.com and Apple Computer's iTunes store launching services of their own.

In addition to movies, AOL has augmented its on-demand television content with downloadable programming from Fox and Sony, including full episodes of "24," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and "Charlie's Angels."

Several TV networks have also made preview shows from their soon-to-debut fall lineup available on AOL Video, a trend that has taken off this summer at other online media hubs like iTunes and Netflix.

Right now, AOL Video offers a limited lineup of downloadable TV shows rather than a wide range of programming. It groups its on-demand programs into "channels"--primarily offshoots of cable and satellite networks such as MTV2 and FX--and offers a shifting selection, typically for $1.99 apiece. There are also AOL News video clips and the still-in-beta online extreme-sports network Lat34.com

The current movie downloads are restricted to a dozen Sony Pictures releases, such as "Spider-Man 2" and "Black Hawk Down." Additionally, the site offers free access to movie trailers, music videos and user-generated clips in the manner of YouTube or Google Video.

AOL Video content can be burned to DVD and is compatible with many devices, the company said.

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