MovieBeam Tries to Make Movies more Convenient

One of the latest ways to watch movies in the comfort of your own home is called MovieBeam. It's a little box that stores movies after it downloads them through an antenna on the roof of your house. The system stores up to 100 films. Steve Inskeep talks to David Pogue, technology columnist for The New York Times, about the service.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On Mondays, the business report focuses on technology. And today, changes in movie distribution.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Some major companies think there's room for one more way for you to get your favorite movies. That's on top of cable and DVD and pay-per-view and airplanes and hotels - not to mention old fashioned movie theaters - all of which seem to ensure that we will never miss a chance to see the latest Adam Sandler masterpiece.

Disney is among the companies trying one new way, called MovieBeam. With us to talk about it is New York Times columnist David Pogue. David, welcome to the program again.

Mr. DAVID POGUE (Columnist, New York Times): Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: Well, how does MovieBeam work?

Mr. POGUE: It's a slim box, looks kind of like a sleek DVD player, except there's no slot. It hooks up to your TV, and it comes with a hundred movies on it. A hundred recent movies already on it, and you just pick the one you want to watch. Each week, eight of them disappear and eight new ones arrive. And they arrive, interestingly, over the PBS signal using an antenna that you park up high on a shelf or near a window.

That means that you don't need cable service, you don't need a computer - these movies just arrive through the airwaves each week. So there's always...

INSKEEP: Over the signal from your local public television station?

Mr. POGUE: That's right. This MovieBeam company has paid PBS for the right to embed their signal in the standard PBS broadcast.

INSKEEP: This is the digital broadcast now that we're talking about, where different television and radio stations can be feeding multiple things at a time. And so now you're getting fed movies if you want them.

Mr. POGUE: That's right. In fact, everybody listening to you is getting these movies right now, but only people with the box can actually unscramble and watch them.

INSKEEP: I'm curious - the eight movies that disappear, do I get to choose which ones I keep for awhile?

Mr. POGUE: You do not. This is the downside of the MovieBeam. You don't get to choose what movies there are, period. The company likes to say it's sort of like the back wall of Blockbuster. You know, what's there is there - that's your choice. Although, unlike Blockbuster, nothing is ever out. You know, the hit movies are always there for you if you want one.

INSKEEP: Aren't people starting to duck all the boxes and rentals and just get movies over the Internet?

Mr. POGUE: Yeah, the Internet might be the future in the future. At the moment, it's really slow to download these movies. And the big one for me is, are you really interesting in watching movies sitting at your desk? Watching them on your computer?

INSKEEP: Let me challenge you to give the briefest of answers - two or three words - to each of these kinds of technology then. Old time Blockbuster-style store.

Mr. POGUE: Got to drive both ways. The movie is going to be out. Late fees. The end.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Netflix. Get it through the mail.

Mr. POGUE: Vast selection. Wonderful customer service, but you get it through the mail. You've got to wait for it. What you have on hand is what you have on hand.

INSKEEP: How about MovieBeam, this new thing?

Mr. POGUE: MovieBeam, extremely convenient. High quality, but can't pick your own movies. You've always got 100 to choose from. You don't get the DVD extras. But unlike movies on TV, these movies aren't nine months old.

INSKEEP: How was that Jennifer Anniston movie, anyway? Did you enjoy that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. POGUE: Excuse me, I watch only World War II documentaries!

INSKEEP: So, that's part of the top 100?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. POGUE: Actually they do pretty well. I mean, there's the usual mass-market schlock. I wouldn't say it's big on the indie fare, but they do strive for a good representation of genres. But there's $200 you have to pay for the box.

INSKEEP: Watching Gone in 60 Seconds for the 47th time on cable.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. POGUE: I think you've answered your own question.

INSKEEP: David Pogue, technology columnist for the New York Times. Thanks very much.

Mr. POGUE: My pleasure.

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