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Studios step up video-on-demand focus

Media industry veteran Jim Ramo is named chief executive of Movielink, a milestone for major studios' video-on-demand plans.

Media industry veteran Jim Ramo on Monday was named chief executive of Movielink, a joint venture by five major movie studios aimed at creating an Internet video-on-demand service.

The venture, formerly known as Moviefly, is backed by Sony Pictures, Viacom's Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, AOL Time Warner's Warner Bros. and Vivendi Universal. Its service is expected to launch during the latter half of the year, although a date has yet to be set.

The appointment of Ramo, formerly an executive at DirecTV and once the chief executive of failed content-delivery start-up Geocast Network Systems, marks a milestone for the company. Nearly a year after word of the effort first leaked out, the service remains essentially in start-up mode.

"We have a team to build, an infrastructure to build and a brand to build," Ramo said in an interview. "We've got a big job ahead."

Online entertainment has not had the best track record. Naysayers say the PC and the Internet cannot compete with television and cable as the prime entertainment pipes into the home. So far, the online entertainment experiment has only resulted in high-profile flops, such as the collapse of the Digital Entertainment Network, and AOL Time Warner's Entertaindom.

Movie studios may be interested in setting up online distribution partly to strengthen their hand in high-stakes negotiations with cable companies, which are also developing on-demand products.

Movielink does have a few advantages in its court. For example, it already owns the rights to deliver the film catalog of five of Hollywood's biggest studios, bucking a general trend of reluctance among copyright holders to open their content to online distribution out of fear of piracy.

But Movielink still has a long way to go before it can sell its products to consumers. Among other things, it has yet to choose the type of technology it will employ to distribute and protect hefty digital video files.

Ramo said the service has settled on offering downloads of full-length feature films rather than streams. He also said the studios will control how their movies are distributed, from the amount of time they're offered online down to the amount consumers will pay.

"This is the beginning of a long-term new growth opportunity for" the studios, Ramo said. "I'm the lucky guy" running the service.