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Starz, Microsoft, Sony Launch Vongo

No word on possible HD fare on the VOD menu yet, but Starz Entertainment Group (opens in new tab) said it plans to launch an Internet movie download service this week, with the considerable backbone support of Microsoft and Sony. The service will be called Vongo.

Vongo joins a handful of other somewhat low-key motion picture download services--such as CinemaNow and Movielink --which have been around a few years but somewhat hampered by extremely cautious piracy-minded Hollywood studios. Also, until the past couple of years, few North American computer users had broadband Internet service, which is a prerequisite for massive movie download files.

Vongo's emergence closely follows the recent debut of Apple's iPod video service, which has helped spark global interest across all electronic media and content providers to traditional TV programs available for a small fee, soon after their initial broadcasts. Starz reportedly plans to offer the feature films from its regular cable channel on PCs and a host of portable media devices for a monthly fee, according to published reports. Whether a significant number of PC users will actually want to view feature-length movies on a regular basis, while sitting in front of their computer monitors, is yet to be seen.

Some reviewers say Microsoft has more at stake in this new venture than may be readily apparent: Vongo will use Microsoft Windows Media to provide copyright management and provide subscribers with the technical ability (that is to say, compatibility) to download movies on portable media devices. And that could mean the enterprise may play a major role in the near-future evolution of Microsoft's portable media software technology.

Along with Starz's cable channel library, Sony will help provide some of the early film content. Starz, which reportedly plans to charge about $10 monthly for access to perhaps an initial 1,000 titles (and $4 per title for newer releases), is a division of Liberty Media .