Correction to This Article
A Nov. 29 Business article about the movie-download service ClickStar gave an incorrect release date for the film "10 Items or Less." It will open in theaters Friday and be available for download Dec. 15.

A Start-Up Fueled by Star Power

Morgan Freeman and his business partner, Lori McCreary, combined their Hollywood connections and tech savvy to build ClickStar.
Morgan Freeman and his business partner, Lori McCreary, combined their Hollywood connections and tech savvy to build ClickStar. (By Jonathan Alcorn For The Washington Post)
By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 29, 2006

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- You expect to see Morgan Freeman up on the big screen, playing sagacious older men in such films as "The Shawshank Redemption."

So what is Freeman doing, at 69, hanging out with the digital hipsters and starting a movie-download business, set to launch this week?

"It seemed like a good idea," the actor said by telephone.

The distribution of movies over the Internet is a concept that's interesting enough to have grabbed the attention of Apple's Steve Jobs, the big movie studios and more than 250 others who have started some form of video-download business this year.

But whether Freeman's idea is a good one is open to debate. His venture, called ClickStar, will operate much like others that are struggling to make a name for themselves. And it's unclear whether Freeman -- with his connections to Hollywood stars and studio heads who are looking for digital distribution methods -- will be able to overcome the hurdles that have kept consumers from widespread adoption.

Apple, which already had success with music and TV-show downloads at its iTunes Store, added movies in September priced as low as $10. And even though it has sold 500,000 downloads since then, it has only a little more than 100 titles available -- all from Walt Disney Co., where Jobs sits on the board of directors.

Movielink and CinemaNow, which are backed by the major Hollywood studios, offer libraries of thousands of movies but charge prices comparable to a DVD purchase, a move meant to appease retailers such as Wal-Mart, which deliver brisk DVD sales. Neither service releases numbers, but analysts have gauged their impact as minimal.

And then there are the issues of slow download times -- as long as two hours for one movie -- and playback restrictions that have hampered consumers from watching downloaded movies on their TV sets. Apple is expected to introduce early next year a device that moves movies from the computer to the TV.

With Freeman's ClickStar, users will be able to purchase a movie for about $20 and watch it on the computer or, with the help of an add-on device, a TV set. And ClickStar users can start playback while the movie is still downloading.

Studies have found that consumers are turned off by that type of pricing. But could they be swayed if Freeman addressed some of their other concerns, such as download times, ease of use with other home electronics and a buy-in from Hollywood studios?

The Oscar-winning actor owns a small Santa Monica movie studio called Revelations. About four years ago, his longtime business partner and a former computer scientist, Lori McCreary, warned him that the movie industry could soon be facing the same Internet piracy problems that were plaguing the music industry.

"Morgan gets technology well enough to see where it's going," McCreary said.

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