Comcast, Starz Think Downloads

Comcast could be about to flip the switch on an Internet movie-download service, though it might be limited just to horror flicks at first.

The nation’s largest cable-system operator will launch a service by the end of this month that will let subscribers download movies over the Internet and view them on computers or on set-top boxes, according to gadget blog Gizmodo.

As part of the service, Comcast will temporarily suspend the 6 Megabit-per-second bandwidth restriction it places on broadband customers to make movie downloads as fast as possible, Gizmodo reported.

An executive with an existing movie-download service said Comcast is developing such a platform, but did not know when it would be launched or what the pricing model would be.

Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury said the company is not launching an Internet movie-download service this month. However, she said that Fearnet, a horror-movie channel Comcast expects to launch Oct. 31, will offer on-demand video, and that there was the “possibility” of Internet downloads of full movies. Comcast has signed Sony Pictures Entertainment on for Fearnet and is in discussions with other studios, she said. Lions Gate Entertainment reportedly will also offer horror titles via Fearnet.

Offering Net-based downloads would make Comcast the first major cable company to jump into broadband movie distribution. Other on-demand Internet movie companies include CinemaNow and Movielink. Apple Computer this summer began offering some Walt Disney titles, such as The Incredibles and Pirates of the Caribbean, through its iTunes service. is selling movies and TV programs via its Unbox service.

Meanwhile, Starz Entertainment, the premium movie channel company based in Englewood, Colo., is readying a version of its Vongo Internet-based download service for cable operators to offer to their subscribers.

Bill Myers, Starz’s president and chief operating officer, said a name for the service hasn’t been selected yet but that it could be something like “Starz Broadband.” The company expects to announce partnerships in the first quarter of 2007.

The pitch: Give cable-system operators a way to deliver movies that customers can watch on their PCs or mobile-video devices (such as Toshiba’s Gigabeat player), augmenting the Starz’s linear and on-demand lineup. “This extends the Starz brand to a new area,” Myers said. “Now operators can say, 'You can take your movies with you and watch them on your laptop.’ ”

Starz launched a beta version of Vongo in January and officially launched the service in June. The company wouldn’t say how many subscribe to the $9.99-per-month service, which offers unlimited viewing of about 2,000 titles and sells 200 pay-per-view movies. Vongo distributes files through Akamai Technologies’ content-distribution network.

As reported earlier, Comcast recently obtained a trademark for the brand “Anyplay,” which gives it the right to use it to label “portable media players; portable and hand-held electronic devices for recording and playing audio and video files; and portable and hand-held electronic devices for reviewing digital image files.” Comcast also could use the brand for “broadcasting and streaming of audio, video and data to portable electronic devices; entertainment services; television-programming services.” Comcast has not disclosed any plans to market a portable media player.