Trimark's Net spinoff to offer feature-length films

The film distributor's CinemaNow venture plans to announce an exclusive partnership to distribute its library of feature-length movies over the Internet.

Trimark Pictures online spinoff CinemaNow tomorrow plans to announce an exclusive partnership to distribute its library of feature-length movies over the Internet.

The deal will make 250 to 300 Trimark films available for streaming on Entertainment Boulevard's Vidnet Web site, which offers movie trailers, music videos and sports programming.

A growing number of companies are battling for "first-mover" status in the race to offer video clips over the Net--a competition that mostly has yielded jerky, low-quality pictures and a dubious audience. Many entrants, such as Atom Films and Time Warner's Entertaindom site, have chosen to focus on short films, in part because the technology isn't considered good enough to keep viewers interested for more than a few minutes at a time.

Whether the audience is ready, CinemaNow and Vidnet's decision to offer full-length features sets them apart.

"It's like we've planted our flag on the moon," said CinemaNow CEO Curt Marvis, who acknowledged that the market for online films must wait for Internet connection speeds to improve, a process that could take years.

The company, which was spun off from Trimark last year, is gearing up for a major Web site relaunch in July, according to Marvis, who says he has several strategies to balance the untested online market for full-length features.

For one, CinemaNow plans to target 20-year-old male college students with cult hits from Trimark, such as its five-part "Leprechaun" horror series. CinemaNow also recently signed a deal to obtain Internet distribution rights to Hong Kong martial arts and action film distributor Tai Seng Video Marketing.

"We're targeting a very narrow niche," said Marvis.

In addition to inking distribution deals, CinemaNow plans to offer "talent scout" services to put independent filmmakers in touch with studio producers, a move aimed at creating revenue streams that don't depend on a large online film audience.

Even though it is venturing into unknown waters, CinemaNow faces considerable competition.

Ifilm, one of the first companies to offer feature-length films for streaming over the Web, in January closed $35 million in financing from an investment group including Sony Pictures Entertainment and Eastman Kodak. Like CinemaNow, Ifilm plans to launch a broadband service and offers a full range of resources for would-be filmakers as well as movie lovers.

Meanwhile, media giant Time Warner's newly launched entertainment site, Entertaindom, features several online programs, ranging from short films by Atom Films to Looney Tunes classics.

Some programs--such as "Cartoon Cinema," which features classic Looney Tunes shorts, or "Rhino Retro Pop," which features expired TV programs and commercials--allow users to access archived Warner Bros. programs. Other programs, original productions offered through Entertaindom creative partners, include the "God and Devil Show," "Dr. Science" and "Floops."

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