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The Sydney Morning Herald (2006)
Toni leads digital charge
February 23, 2006 | Written by Michael Idato and Joel Gibson
For an acclaimed actor and film nut like Toni Collette, the drift of movie audiences from cinema to home is both sweet and sour. After launching Australia's first movie download service yesterday, she expressed sadness at the closure of some of Sydney's independent cinemas in the past year. "I used to go to the Valhalla a lot, and it's the end of an era. But life changes," she said, adding that if technologies could give new audiences to movies, it is a price an actor is willing to pay.

"Anything legal that gets people interested in film is good. Personally, I will always go to the cinema. I think that films are made to be seen on the large screen," said Collette. "But that's not always possible for people - what about those who can't get themselves there?" A handful of media companies, including Sony Pictures, Granada and the ABC, will make parts of their film and television libraries available online in a landmark deal signed with internet service provider BigPond. It is a small first step towards confirming the internet - and not traditional businesses such as free-to-air TV - as the future platform for the delivery of home entertainment.

It is also intended to staunch some of the bleeding caused by movie and TV piracy, worth more than $US3 billion worldwide. The system, called BigPond Movies, will allow consumers to download movies for $5.95 and television programs for $1.95. The films can then be played on personal computers. The downloaded files will last between seven and 30 days, with a playback window of 24 hours (for recent release films) and up to seven days (for back catalogue titles). Users will be able to copy music videos onto portable devices such as iPods.

The system was switched on yesterday with more than 1000 movies from Becker, Dendy, Madman and Sony, which owns the Columbia, TriStar, MGM and United Artists catalogues. It will also offer TV series from Sony, Granada and the ABC including The Shield, Inspector Morse, Cold Feet and Double the Fist. The deal has also made major concessions to existing distribution frameworks: movies will not be available for download until three months after their release on DVD and TV series will only be available the day after they screen on free-to-air or pay TV. Sony is the only major film studio to supply content to the venture. Universal and Warner Bros will supply music videos but not film or TV programs.

In the US, Disney has dipped its toe into the market, offering $US1.99 copyright-protected downloads of Lost and Desperate Housewives through the Apple iTunes online store, but many studios remain fearful the internet will encourage piracy rather than stifle it. Piracy, which includes the illegal duplication of DVDs and the illegal downloading of films and TV programs, costs those industries more than $US3 billion per year worldwide. In Australia, it is estimated that piracy has eaten into as much as 10 per cent of the legitimate market.