The Dallas-based movie-rental company Blockbuster has announced plans to expand its digital reach by delivering movies over the Internet through a variety of electronic devices, including cell phones as soon as the second quarter of 2009. Users will be able to view ala carte movies on mobile phones, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console, Windows and Mac OS X computers, portable media players, Blu-ray Disc players, personal video recorders, set-top boxes, and Web-connected TV sets.
The company has collaborated with Sonic Solutions to offer more than 12,000 movies and TV shows. The partnership comes just two months after digital video, audio specialist Sonic Solutions acquired CinemaNow, a movie downloading service, for $3 million from a group of investors that included movie studio Lionsgate, and Internet gear maker Cisco Systems Inc. Novato-based Sonic will still oversee the technology powering CinemaNow’s re-branded system.
“Blockbuster is a ubiquitous entertainment presence in the physical world. Through this alliance with Sonic, we plan to become a ubiquitous presence in the digital world as well,” Jim Keyes, Blockbuster’s CEO, said in a statement. “Our goal is to offer consumers the most digital content, the most accessibility, via the most devices, both in and out of home.”
Blockbuster took its first step to match the advances of Netflix in late November 2008 when it introduced a gadget that connects to television sets and temporarily saves video after it’s downloaded over high-speed Internet connections. The rental business was more than $9 billion last year. Internet on-demand video remains a small slice, but it grew considerably over the past year, from $28.4 million in 2007 to $88.5 million in 2008.
Blockbuster accounts for roughly 40 percent of the $5.5 billion store business, while Netflix has more than 70 percent of the $2.2 billion subscription-rental business.
Blockbuster plans initially to sell videos or rent them on a pay-per-view basis, but the movie rental chain said it is considering offering a subscription plan for unlimited access to Blockbuster’s digital library.
Netflix already provides a free Web-streaming service to customers who are signed up for a monthly subscription that costs at least $8.99.
Blockbuster will sell the services, powered by Sonic Systems, under its own brand name. The two companies are also working with consumer electronic manufacturers to make the services compatible with Apple and Windows PCs apart from other devices. The download devices will be sold through Blockbuster’s 7,500 stores, online at blockbuster.com and at other retailers.