July 10, 2002 4:10 PM PDT

Movielink: Bring on the experts

Movielink plans to announce Thursday that it has hired three top executives in a move to rally plans for its delayed video-on-demand service.

The Los Angeles-based company named John Godwin, former technology head at DirecTV, as chief technology officer and Bruce Anderson, another longtime tech executive, as vice president of operations. In addition, Kenneth Goeller, former executive at Intertainer, was appointed vice president of business systems.

Movielink, now set to launch in December, is backed by Sony Pictures, Viacom's Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, AOL Time Warner's Warner Bros. and Vivendi Universal. The venture's grand opening has been waylaid since earlier this year, when it named media industry veteran Jim Ramo to become CEO.

The service, which will sell downloads from a library of new and classic films over the Internet, has been slow to start as Hollywood struggles with new distribution models and the threat of Internet piracy. What's more, arguments abound about the fundamental strengths of sending video via IP (Internet Protocol) networks rather than using on-demand delivery through cable and satellite set-top boxes, which the major film studios have been targeting for distribution.

Meanwhile, the life expectancy of online entertainment ventures dwindled with the dot-com bust, when several major initiatives including Digital Entertainment Network, Pseudo.com and AOL Time Warner's Entertaindom went belly up. Even News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox studio earlier this year pulled out of a joint venture with Walt Disney to create a video-on-demand service dubbed Movies.com.

For now, consumers can buy and rent movies over the Internet for viewing on a computer from a few legal commercial services, including Intertainer and CinemaNow. But those ventures have been restricted by difficulties in signing major distribution contracts with reluctant Hollywood studios.

Movielink is ahead of the game in that it already owns the rights to deliver the film catalog of five of Hollywood's biggest studios, shirking general sentiment that the copyright holders are reticent to open their content to online distribution out of fear of piracy. Still, regulators have been looking into the studios' planned Internet distribution partnerships to ensure against anti-competitive activity.

The company has yet to publicize the type of technology it will use to distribute and protect large digital video files. But early this year an executive familiar with the project said it would support MPEG-4, an audio and video compression standard heavily endorsed by Apple Computer.

Through its latest appointments, the company is beefing up on its technology and video-on-demand expertise, with two former DirecTV technology executives and another from rival Intertainer. For example, Godwin, in his new position, will handle company infrastructure and operations including the Movielink Web site, content distribution network, security, e-commerce operations, business systems and new distribution methods.

"By hiring Bruce, Ken and Bryan, we have assembled an experienced and respected team to run our technology division. They all understand the technological complexities and challenges of working in the Internet (video-on-demand) space, and I know that they will contribute individually and collectively to the success of our venture," Movielink's Ramo said in a statement.

 

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