Movielink announces deal for UMPC exposure
With the hotly anticipated announcement yesterday that Microsoft is launching a new portable platform called Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) positioned between tablets and PDAs, other companies can be expected to jump on that horse and ride it as far as they can. One of those companies is Movielink, the video-on-demand service that appears to have the largest lead in a very slow sack race. Movielink is trying to place itself in the position of becoming to the UMPC platform and the movie industry what iTMS has been to the iPod and the music industry. Yesterday, the company, which already caters only to users of Windows 2000 and XP, announced a partnership with Microsoft in which Movielink will be "the premier brand and provider of video content for the UMPC."
What that means exactly is still unexplained. Movielink's level of integration with UMPC could range anywhere from tightly integrated services to getting a default icon in the Program Launcher. Smart money probably rides somewhere in between, with emphasis on the latter. Microsoft is unlikely to tie its interface too tightly to a company it doesn't own, and even if MS had intentions to purchase Movielink somewhere down the road, the inevitable antitrust scrutiny that such a move would bring would probably keep Movielink's contributions to the platform subtle at best.
Even if Movielink's integration is minimal, this could be a big move for that company. History has shown—as in the cases of Internet Explorer or iTMS—that simple convenience can go a long way toward adoption and popularity. In either of those examples, it can be argued that there are better alternatives, but they are popular due to their ubiquity.
So far, Movielink hasn't exactly taken the world by storm. Although there are several major studios involved with the company, the selection of available movies is far from complete. Netflix is currently the most popular player in the "get a movie without getting off the couch" game, but it's unlikely that their relatively slow physical delivery model will continue to satisfy consumers forever. Electronic delivery, via On Demand or a service like Movielink is probably destined to replace it, once the studios' concerns about copy protection issues are addressed to their satisfaction.
However, Movielink's potential success in this case is tied directly to the success of the UMPC platform itself. Watching any video content on a larger screen than an iPod's certainly has its appeal, but don't expect consumers to purchase UMPCs just for the ability to view Lord of the Rings on the bus. UMPC will sink or swim based on its usefulness as a computer platform—most likely as an Internet machine with additional capabilities—and Movielink is banking on the hope that this untested platform will be successful.
Legal video downloading in some form or another is an inevitable part of our future. With iTMS expanding its selection of TV offerings, simultaneous releases of movies in multiple formats, and rumors of a combination downloading/DVD system swirling around Amazon, the only questions are who and how. Who will come up with the system that stabilizes this very new market, and how will it be implemented? Depending on the popularity of UMPC, Movielink's link to UMPC will likely turn out to be a shot in the arm...or a shot in the dark.