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Cable movie channel moves to Internet

Using RealNetworks technology, Vongo combines Internet distribution with content viewing on platforms including computers and portable video devices, as well as traditional TV displays.

Continuing the fast-paced trend toward Internet distribution of video, Starz Entertainment Group has announced a new subscription service that will allow the downloading of full-length movies, music concerts and other video programming through a Web site.

The new service, called Vongo, couples Internet distribution with premium content viewing on platforms including computers and portable video devices, as well as traditional TV displays.

The Starz announcement is the latest evidence of a dramatic shift taking place in the way content owners are distributing television programs and feature films. Since last October, when Apple Computer introduced the video-capable iPod, major content owners including the Walt Disney Company and NBC Universal have moved on a show-by-show basis to distribution on portable platforms.

Starz, which operates pay movie channels under the Starz and Encore brands, is owned by Liberty Media, the company controlled by cable entrepreneur John C. Malone.

Using RealNetworks technology, Starz has — since 2004 — offered a movie download service called Starz Ticket. However, that service, which will continue, does not allow the downloading of films to mobile devices. With Vongo, Starz will embrace Microsoft’s Media Player software that allows films to be viewed on portable media players.

The announcement coincides with what is expected to be the introduction of several new low-priced portable video players at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, according to industry reports.

Vongo, now available for Windows PCs only in beta form, will eventually offer a base of about 1000 movies that can be viewed on up to three devices for a $9.95 monthly fee. A version for the Macintosh computer platform is promised soon.

Separately, the New York Times reported that Starz will also offer Vongo through Sony’s Connect download service. Until now, Connect has mainly sold music, but executives involved with Sony’s plans told the Times that the company will soon announce an expansion to video downloads as well.

Apple Computer is widely expected to announce its own expanded video distribution offering at the MacWorld conference in San Francisco starting Jan. 9.

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