06 January 2006

VONGO

Since a number of colleagues have asked about the Starz VONGO service, I figured a few comments are in order.



In short, VONGO is a service that downloads movies to a computer and synchronizes them with a portable player.



Sounds
simple, right? Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the fine print
conspires with business realities to cripple a seemingly compelling
service.



  • Computers must run Windows, and have a recent version of Windows Media Player (a free download).


  • Only a handful of portable devices support the right DRM (digital rights management).


  • Even if one has the right hardware and software, moving content from
    the computer to the player can be excruciating. Ask me for a demo, then
    come back after a few hours to check progress.


  • Usage rules can be
    confusing. For example, you may have only 24 hours to finish a movie
    from the time you start it. This isn't so convenient for travelers who
    watch part of a movie on the flight out, and hope to finish on the
    return flight.


  • Great content is sparse. Starz does seem to have
    better and more recent movies than, say, CinemaNow, but users are
    limited to the movies currently offered by Starz. Compare those with
    HBO and Showtime. Given that DVD sales represent over half the revenues
    of typical movies, studios aren't too eager to canniabalize their
    primary money maker. Hopefully this will improve as business models are
    worked out (thank you, Apple), but even studio-owned MovieLink has been
    starved for good content in the years since it launched.


Notwithstanding
these limitations, it's hoped Starz can make a go of VONGO. Indeed,
they need successful innovations to differentiate from the likes of
HBO, which attracts subscribers with such stellar original programming
as "Deadwood" and "Entourage."

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