January 16, 2007, 12:00 AM

Netflix to deliver rental films electronically to PCs--but not yet to TVs

Netflix’s new “instant watching” feature uses real-time playback technology that allows subscribers to view a rental film on a PC screen almost as soon as it’s delivered. It will debut the service with 1,000 films.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

Netflix has announced the next phase in its march toward the electronic delivery of rental films and TV shows to TV screens: an “instant watching” feature using real-time playback technology that allows subscribers to view a rental film on a PC screen almost as soon as it’s delivered. The feature, debuting with a fraction of Netflix’s 70,000-title catalog at 1,000 available titles, should be available as an alternative to DVD rental to all Netflix subscribers by June in a phased roll-out, according to the company.

”While mainstream consumer adoption of online movie-watching will take a number of years due to content and technology hurdles, the time is right for Netflix to take the first step,” says CEO Reed Hastings. “Over the coming years we’ll expand our selection of films, and we’ll work to get to every Internet-connected screen, from cell phones to PCs to plasma screens. The PC screen is the best Internet-connected screen today, so we are starting there.”

The new feature will be included in subscribers’ monthly membership plan at no additional cost. However, the number of hours of access to films delivered electronically will vary by the type of plan in which subscribers are enrolled.

Using the feature will require a one-time, under-60-second installation of a simple browser application. Once a subscriber has access to the new feature under the phased rollout, it will show up as a “Watch Now” button on the subscriber’s personalized Netflix home page. Following installation, most subscribers’ electronically-delivered movie selections will begin playing in their web browser within as little as 10 to 15 seconds of delivery. Netflix notes the technology supporting the new feature doesn’t require the long time frame associated with downloading a video file. Netflix is specifically focusing on the rental segment of electronic delivery, distinct from the purchase of movie downloads via video on demand technology.

The introduction of immediate viewing is part of its plan to lead the movie rental market by adding electronic delivery to its hard-copy DVD rental platform, the company says. Netflix is No. 21 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide to Retail Web Sites. Hastings will deliver a keynote address on The Transformation of the Movie Rental Industry at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, June 4-7 in San Jose.

Netflix’s announcement follows by one week Apple Inc.’s announcement of Apple TV, a device that connects to most widescreen TVs, which enables viewers to wirelessly pull content from their PC into their home entertainment systems and onto their TV screen from up to 30 feet away. Apple already is taking orders for the new TV interface, with shipments to start next month. Apple is No. 15 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide to Retail Web Sites.



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