Netflix generated a fair amount of comment when it announced a new set-top box made by Roku that will allow their subscribers to watch about 10,000 movies and TV shows (10% of their total available) "instantly" on a television over their broadband connection (wireless too). Engadget has more information and a round-up of reviews. (We wrote about Netflix's plans in January.) Though some have complained about the paucity of titles available, I was impressed by the number of documentaries and foreign-language films that are available. The box retails for $99 and, as of now, no additional monthly charge by Netflix. If you're already a subscriber, that could be a boon. I don't like to watch anything longer than a trailer on my laptop, so I am sorely tempted to pick one up so I can watch on my TV.
On the other hand, if you are comfortable watching movies on your PC, two other companies are trying out new models for online viewing. Last November I wrote about the difficulties that distributor Halo-8 Entertainment had in getting online retailers such as Amazon to stock the excellent doc Your Mommy Kills Animals.
The Cease & Desist campaign, which the company maintains is unlawful, continues, so in response the company has developed a new digital portal to make most of their catalog available directly to the public. The site, entitled Televandalism, is still in beta mode, but as of now it allows users instant digital access to films, lifestyle shows, and comic books. Right now they're charging an annual fee for all access, though a company representative told me via e-mail that their pricing structure may change in the future.
However things shake out price-wise, I think this kind of model is a good idea for people looking for films outside the mainstream. Some individual filmmakers are already making their work available online on their own sites, but it makes sense to band together -- either with a simpatico distributor or a group of fellow filmmakers -- and offer a selection of titles and a reasonable price. If nothing else, it's an alternative if the terms offered by Netflix or Apple (or other corporate entities) are not favorable.
Of course, it's hard to beat "free," which is the plan recently announced by Jaman last week. The site offers films from around the world for instant streaming on PC. Their newest plan allows users to watch movies in high-definition quality for free; the catch is that advertisements are included and only 100 titles are offered right now. Ad-free downloading is available at $1.99 per movie. Jaman's library is limited to 3,000 titles right now, but they are constantly forging new partnerships. Their latest deals team them with Magnolia Pictures and First Look Studios.