Miramax films to hit Web

Disney studio strikes 12-movie deal with online indie distributor

In what could prove to be a groundbreaking deal for online film distribution, Disney's Miramax Films will make 12 movies available for pay-per-view downloads through SightSound.com. Miramax becomes the first major studio to take the plunge in presenting feature-length films on the Web in a deal that could expand beyond the 12-title package it will initially make available.

That depends on results, but Miramax feels its timing is right. "It's our belief that there's a potential to exploit our films over a new distribution platform," said Bob Osher, co-president of production at Miramax Osher. "Miramax is a cutting-edge company, and we're trying to get ahead of the other film companies in online distribution."

Osher expects the Web to draw a new audience to the films, along with repeat viewers. He indicated that Miramax had been approached by several other companies also interested in making its movies available online. In contrast, the major Hollywood studios haven't been fighting for the chance to take the first step in putting features on the Web because of concerns over piracy. And such sites as SightSound.com have specialized in making independent films available for streaming or downloads.

But antipiracy technology is now reliable enough to allay anxiety about theft of product. SightSound.com will use Microsoft's digital rights-management system and encryption technology to ensure secure downloads of the Miramax films, according to Scott Sander, president and chief executive officer of Mt. Lebanon, Pa.-based SightSound.com. "What we've tried to do at SightSound," he said, "is to create a solution to the piracy problem."

SightSound.com is negotiating for similar exhibition rights with several other major studios, according to Sander.

PC users will be able to download the 12 Miramax titles, yet to be announced, and view for them for a period of 24 hours before they disappear from the user's hard drive. The encryption software will limit access to PC users in the U.S.

Pricing for the pay-per-view downloads and date for launching the service were not announced. Miramax will take most of the resulting revenue, but neither party indicated what the revenue split would be.

Although the titles aren't settled, they'll probably be already in the home video pipeline, consistent with the traditional PPV television window. Miramax's roster includes such hits as Shakespeare In Love, Il Postino and Pulp Fiction.

SightSound.com will handle the downloads, but the films will be available only on the Miramax site or on individual sites set up for each film.

SightSound currently charges $2.95 for access to the independent films it offers, taking 30% to 50% of the revenue. Its library includes several hundred independent titles. It will soon add 35 titles from Franchise Pictures in a deal struck earlier this year.