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U.K. digital film project hits Web snag

A film project that claims it's the first to let people watch a movie online while it's new in theaters closes Web admissions after failing to meet visitors' bandwidth demands.

A film project that claims it's the first to let people watch a movie online while it's new in theaters closed Web admissions this weekend after failing to meet visitors' bandwidth demands.

The Web site and independent film, called "This is not a Love Song," debuted in the United Kingdom on Friday. Created by the government-funded U.K. Film Council, the project sought to stream the film over the Internet; stream it over the Internet to digital projectors in theaters; and release a 35mm film in traditional theaters. But one leg of the project buckled when an unexpected number of people logged on to the Internet to watch the picture, which was written by Simon Beaufoy, scribe of the "The Full Monty."

"The response that we've had has been way in excess of anyone's expectations," said Jonathan Green, technical director at Web site design company Franki & Jonny, which put up the site.

"The bottleneck was (first) the limited bandwidth of the Web site server, and then the payment process," Green said, adding that the video servers held up fine.

The site, which was publicized widely in the United Kingdom before the film's debut, attracted about 25,000 unique visitors Friday, Green said. Only about 100 of those people were able to download and stream the film over their PC. Green said that the video servers streaming the media were unstressed, but that the single servers handling Web site traffic and billing processes were insufficient for the load.

Only people in the United Kingdom could view the picture, but the site drew visitors worldwide. To access the film, people also had to be running Microsoft Windows XP, 98 SE, Me or 2000, as well as Microsoft's latest media-streaming software, Windows Media Player 9 Series.

According to a notice on the site, the company received gripes from Mac and other non-PC users about being barred, and it tried to offer more explanation. "The reality was time and cost constraints, and (it was) not an advert for any particular type of operating system, media player or indeed any other gadget," the notice said.

For its part, Microsoft has been aggressive about pushing its video compression technology into digital theaters. It has worked with BMW Films, among others, to be on the forefront of streaming digital video into theaters.

The technical team of is working directly with Microsoft to work out Web site issues before it plans to open film sales online again, either Wednesday or Thursday, Green said. It has also worked with various partners to increase site servers to meet audience demand, he said.

The movie cost between 2 and 3 pounds ($3.20 and $4.75) depending on bandwidth speeds. That compares with theater prices of about 8 pounds ($12.65). Once downloaded, the movie can be played endlessly on the designated PC. According to the site, people will only be able to buy access to the film until Sept. 19.

The project is meant to emphasize that audiences will embrace legal online distribution of films, and, according to the site, the demand is one illustration that they might.

It reads: "We just wanted to show it could be done to give opportunity to independent film producers, and maybe food for thought for the film industry at large."