Blockbuster to Buy Movie Download Firm

The Associated Press
Thursday, August 9, 2007; 12:42 AM

DALLAS -- Although Blockbuster Inc.'s Total Access program has been adding subscribers faster than Netflix Inc.'s DVD rental service, Netflix was able to tout that only it offered the ability to instantly download movies and TV shows to a computer. Not for long. Blockbuster said Wednesday it is buying the digital movie-download service Movielink, giving it a stronger online foothold to compete with its rival.

The Dallas-based video rental chain said it would continue to operate Movielink as a stand-alone service but eventually make elements of it available through Blockbuster's online-ordering, mail-delivery service.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Blockbuster was in advanced talks to buy Movielink earlier this year but backed off. The chain renewed the talks in July, about the time that it named a new chief executive, James Keyes.

"Many of our stores still say 'Blockbuster Video,'" Keyes said in an interview. "We're taking a fresh look at the future of Blockbuster. The popularity of (online rentals) convinced us that customers are ready for more convenient forms of digital delivery that we think Blockbuster can successfully enter."

The deal gives Blockbuster access to Movielink's large catalog and, for the first time, gives its customers the ability to download movies.

Netflix, which has more subscribers but isn't growing as fast, has been offering a download service since early this year.

Both services face limits, however. Netflix's catalog is mostly older movies, although it recently began offering current television shows such as NBC's "The Office."

Movielink "puts us in business," Keyes said, "but longer-term we must have faster and more effective streaming capability" and consumer-friendly features.

Keyes added that Blockbuster could make additional acquisitions in the download business.

Movielink, based in Santa Monica, Calif., was launched by five studios in 2002, marking the first time that a large supply of recent, popular films was available for rental on the Internet.

The studios hoped to stave off enormous losses from people downloading illegal copies of movies over the Internet. The company is owned equally by Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Bros.

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