Starz Launches PMC Service With Microsoft

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Las Vegas — Starz Entertainment Group launched in New York Tuesday a new video download service, called VONGO, offering a broad library of subscription and video-on-demand titles for Windows PCs and a new crop of personal media players based on Microsoft’s Portable Media Center software.

A number of hardware manufacturers will be announcing portable media players this week that will be able to access movies downloaded on the service for playback on the go.

Starz and Microsoft announced a partnership to deliver premium downloaded video content to PCs and new portable devices based on version 2 of Microsoft’s PMC operating system.

The two companies worked together on a “unique system” of digital rights management (DRM) and business rules that will allow the transfer of movies and subscription downloads to PMC devices,” said Bob Greene, Starz Entertainment Group advanced services and new technologies senior VP.

In addition to Microsoft, Starz said it has also partnered with Sony to offer VONGO “as a cornerstone” of Sony’s new Sony CONNECT video service, that will be launched later this year.

VONGO — which is a short form of “video on the go” — will be offered to broadband PC owners as a $9.99 monthly subscription or as a $3.99 al a cart pay-per-view video download.

Pay-per-view titles will also include early released films at are not yet eligible for the monthly subscription package.

Users will be able to download VHS, and eventually DVD, quality videos over broadband connections to a PC or laptop, from where they can be relayed to a PMC handheld device for playback on the go. A subscription to the service will support playback of downloaded content on up to three devices.

Titles and viewing periods are administered using Windows DRM software, Greene said. Monthly subscribers will have unlimited playback opportunity of any title listed in a given month. Pay-per-view customers can watch a film for a 24-hour period after playback has started. At the end of the viewing period, the downloaded file is automatically erased from the user’s hard drive.

VONGO will offer approximately 870 titles of newly released and classic movies, extreme sporting events and long-form concerts at launch, and will continually rotate titles in and out at the end of each month.

Because of Starz’s exclusive distribution agreements with many of the major studios, Greene said VONGO will have first access to one of the most extensive catalogs of new releases and popular classics available for distribution over the Internet.

“Consumers have told us that what they want is as broad a selection of movies as possible and early access to the top movies,” Greene told TWICE. “We will give them that with VONGO.”

VONGO is similar in some respects to the company’s Starz! Ticket service, which launched in June 2004. That service was PC and laptop centric and relied on RealNetworks’ playback software and Helix DRM.

Greene said VONGO’s use of Windows Media Player software and Windows DRM has made it more popular with studios for portable media player use.

“With VONGO, we wanted to build a new service that would take advantage of everything we’ve learned from our Starz! Ticket subscribers and from the market as well as take advantage of new partnerships we’ve created,” Greene said.

He said VONGO’s downloadable application software for the PC “will allow users to navigate through all of the movies, whether online or offline, in the same environment, regardless of Internet connectivity status.”


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