Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bell Gives Canadians Downloadable Movies, TV - UPDATED!

After about a year of rumours, Bell has finally launched its own video download site, offering over 1,500 downloadable movies and TV shows. Do Canadians finally have a home-grown source for good video content online? Sort of.

The movie section is great because it features new releases for purchase the same day they become available in stores, or for rent "shortly thereafter". (iTunes recently announced a similar service in the U.S.) A movie can be bought-to-own for $4.99 or rented for $1.99, the latter of which makes the film available for 30 days after it has been downloaded, and for 24 hours once it has been activated.

The TV show offerings, however, aren't as promising...unless you're a huge fan of the World Series of Mahjong in Cantonese, that is. Only a few programs are available, and they're all "classic" (i.e. old) TV shows or cartoons. No thanks. Funnily, upon clicking on any TV section (most popular, top rated, etc.) the results load near the bottom portion of the page, while the movies that fall into that same category are highlighted at the top. It's almost like Bell is aware that the TV offerings aren't what mass consumers want, and the company is admitting by the layout of the site that "Hey, we know the TV options aren't that great, but look at all the cool movies we have!"

The ball, of course, isn't entirely in Bell's court because the company is at the mercy of licensing issues with both Canadian and U.S. studios, the latter of which arguably includes the most popular prime-time shows. A Bell spokesperson tells me that Bell is "going after anything they can get their hands on" when it comes to content, so hopefully we can expect more content added over the next few months. Nevertheless, the availability of recent, box-office movies for download in Canada is a big step in the right direction. And the fact that video is ready for viewing immediately upon purchase rather than you having to wait until the entire file has downloaded is a bonus. All videos from the store are "DVD quality" says Bell, and although no HD content is available just yet, Bell's spokesperson tells me that there certainly is opportunity for such content "down the road".

Videos can also be transferred to select Archos portable media players for watching on-the-go, which is great for owners of select Archos portable media players, but not so great for anyone who has any other device. Truthfully, I can't fathom a time when I'd ever want to watch movies on a PC screen, unless I pulled my notebook out and plopped it on the tray in front of me on a plane. But what I would love to do is load a portable player or video-capable mobile phone up with my fav TV shows to watch while traveling. But for people who live in small apartments or dorm rooms, or who spend more time in their computer rooms than they do the living room, buying and watching movies via PC might be an appreciated option. What's more, if you have a Media Center PC, you can watch content from the Bell Video Store on your large-screen TV in its full resolution.

All of this leads back to copyright and licensing issues, which continue to stifle innovation in Canada. Heck, the functions a PVR perform are technically not "legal" in Canada! In a perfect world, I would be able to download these movies and any TV show I liked onto any player I want, and listen to it any time I want. Alas, we don't live in a perfect world. But each, small step is getting us closer to this goal. For now, I'm still keen on watching my TV and movies via cable, on-demand, or DVD, and I'll stick to YouTube for the PC.

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1 comment:

Lee_D said...

While it may not yet be everything we're hoping for, it's an encouraging start.

While licensing remains a huge bugaboo, it's beginning to look like the studios and networks are starting to warm up to digital delivery.