ClickStar ready for movie download retake

Morgan Freeman's company set to premiere a service for downloading first-run, documentary and independent films amid crowded scene.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
The concept of downloading movies from the Internet sounds so easy and convenient, but it's been a tale of woe. Start-up ClickStar, however, hopes to start rewriting the script for this in about two weeks.

Founded by actor Morgan Freeman, the company will let consumers download, for a fee, first-run movies, classics, documentaries and independent films from its site, beginning December 15. One of the first movies on the service will be 10 Items or Less, a film starring Freeman that's currently playing in theaters.

ClickStar was going to release 10 Items or Less simultaneously in theaters and on the Web, but, among other reasons, doing the theatrical release first meant the picture could qualify for awards, CEO James Ackerman said.

Prices will range from $1.99 for renting an older movie like Endless Summer, to around $24.99 for buying a DVD-quality download of a first-run film. Freeman and other stars will also host channels to provide information on films and recommendations.

Several movie download services have come to market, and most have been greeted with at least some complaints. MovieLink offers first-run movies, but restricts how consumers can view them. Early customers have griped about the slowness of Amazon.com's Unbox service. Sites like Veoh Networks and EZ Takes give customers access to a wide variety of films. The catch? Mostly they offer movies you haven't heard of.

Wal-Mart Stores will let consumers download a copy of Superman Returns from the Internet. The only consumers who can take advantage of this deal, however, are those who have already bought the DVD version of the movie, which only just came out this week.

"Documentaries rarely get a theatrical release. Here is an opportunity to show documentaries to many, many people."
--ClickStar CEO James Ackerman

Still, the services are improving rapidly. CinemaNow has begun to offer a download-to-DVD service. Many of the titles, such as The Godson with Dom Deluise, probably even fall short of Joel Siegel's definition of "A laff riot!," but the service also includes movies, such as Barbershop, that were legitimate hits. Cable companies such as Comcast are also investing heavily into on-demand services and expanding the available programming.

ClickStar is essentially going to try to thread the needle by offering high quality, and often difficult to find content while also removing some of the impediments to an easy rental.

Consumers will download movies from ClickStar for rent or purchase on their PC. They won't have to stream movies. (The only video that will be streamed will be the film introductions). Consumers will also be able to watch downloaded movies on their TVs, not just their PCs.

The channels will meanwhile help people decide what to watch or introduce them to something new. Danny DeVito, for instance, will host a channel called Jersey Docs, which will showcase documentaries. DeVito also will describe what drew him to the film in an introduction and help put the film in context.

"Documentaries rarely get a theatrical release. Here is an opportunity to show documentaries to many, many people," Ackerman said.

Director Peter Bogdonavich, meanwhile, who has had as side career chronicling Hollywood, will highlight classic films on ClickStar. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory will also use the service to release educational content on NASA missions and space.

Ackerman acknowledged that getting studios to sign onto the concept of film downloads has taken work, but the situation is improving. The company has signed 15 deals with different content owners.

Freeman announced the project when he make a guest appearance during a keynote speech by Intel CEO Paul Otellini at CES in 2004."