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Warner fights Chinese piracy with low-cost online rentals

Speed Racer, I Am Legend among titles offered on service

By Susanne Ault -- Video Business, 11/4/2008

NOV. 4 | Warner Bros. Digital Distribution is expanding its effort to fight piracy with the launch of Speed Racer, Fool’s Gold, I Am Legend and other recent releases as low-cost online rentals in China.

Billing its move as the first transactional video-on-demand deal of its kind in China, Warner said it will offer mainly new releases, including some that have never bowed theatrically in the country. Chinese consumers will be able to access titles, priced between 4 and 7 Rmb per title (60¢ to $1), through their PCs and the Chinese Web site Voole.com.

Warner hopes that by offering relatively inexpensive online rentals, it can work to curb piracy in the region. China has about 300 video services, but just a few actually own distribution rights to Hollywood movies, according to the studio.

Warner did not specify the windows between titles’ U.S. theatrical/DVD launch and the digital launch in China.

The studio describes the VOD transactions as copy-protected rentals but does not detail how long Chinese consumers will be able to watch the titles.

Warner promises to offer a wide range of titles from its library, spanning films TV and special interest programming.

“The fast-growing Chinese market already has significant broadband usage, with a projected 230 million users by the end of 2008,” said Tony Vaughn, managing director of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment joint venture in China, CAV Warner. “Over 80% of the total China Internet population has viewed online video content in the last six months alone, and now we can offer them a wider selection of top quality entertainment the way they want to watch it.”

On top of the attractive price, Warner is boosting the online rentals’ allure over pirated options by giving consumers the choice of an original English soundtrack with subtitles or a Chinese-language dub.

“We are delighted to be working with the Warner Bros. team in China to be leading the market in this way,” said Shao Yiding, CEO of Union Voole Technology in China. “This new service will provide more convenience and choice to consumers and, at the same time, help us combat piracy by offering great Warner Bros. movies in a high quality, legitimate format.”

The VOD initiative is the latest example of Warner’s aggressiveness in combating piracy in the region. In 2005, the studio launched its joint distribution unit with China Audio Visual, CAV Warner, to service low-cost DVDs to the region. Since then, the unit has serviced titles on behalf of other studios as well, including Paramount Home Entertainment and Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

“We believe that China is a significant market for us to expand our digital distribution strategy, and this partnership with Voole is an important first step in helping us to reach the broadest audience for our movies,” said Marc Gareton, executive VP of international at Warner Bros. Digital Distribution. “I am proud of the team that made it possible for us to be the first U.S. studio to offer this pioneering service, allowing fans of Warner Bros. movies in China to watch them when and how they want.”


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