Netflix offers movies on demand

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netflix.jpgThe days of rented DVDs being sent through the post could soon be over. Netflix has unveiled its new on-demand service that lets users stream 1,000 films and TV shows directly to their PCs, rather than wait for the postman.

The new feature is being rolled out over the next six months, and will be included in Netflix users’ monthly membership plans, rather than charged for separately. The company reckons users will be able to start watching a film within 10 to 15 seconds of clicking on it in their web browser.

“While mainstream consumer adoption of online movie watching will take a number of years due to content and technology hurdles, the time is right for Netflix to take the first step,” says CEO Reed Hastings.

Netflix says the news doesn’t represent the death of its existing rental service – a sensible move given the fact that many people are only just discovering it for the first time. The new on-demand service will be a rental model too – for the moment, Netflix isn’t allowing users to download movies and keep them on their computers.

Users will watch the films in their web browsers, via a browser applet that lets them pause and jump to any point in the film. The service scales according to how fast your broadband connection is too, with the minimum requirement being just 1Mbps speed, and video quality rising after that to “DVD quality” if you have 3Mbps broadband.

Among the first 1,000 titles on the new service are those from NBC Universal, Sony Pictures, MGM, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros, New Line Cinema and Lionsgate, along with a host of TV firms including BBC Worldwide.

Depending on your monthly subscription, you’ll get a certain number of ‘viewing hours’ per month to use the new service. So US users on the $5.99 subscription will get to watch six hours of online movies a month, while those on the $17.99 plan will get 18 hours a month. Meanwhile, Netflix is already planning to extend the service beyond the PC.

“Over the coming years we’ll expand our selection of films, and we’ll work to get to every Internet-connected screen, from cell phones to PCs to plasma screens,” says Hastings. “The PC screen is the best Internet-connected screen today, so we are starting there.”

Stuart Dredge