20th Century Fox to launch movies on Android phones

Twentieth Century Fox is bringing movie downloads to Google’s Android smartphone and tablet platform for the first time later this year, setting up the fast-growing operating system as a media platform to rival Apple’s digital dominance.

Buyers of Fox’s high-definition Blu-ray discs from October, starting with X-Men: First Class, will be able to download an Android-compatible digital copy of the movie from its website using their computer. This can then be “side loaded” onto an Android phone.

The Android download service – which Fox says is the first of its kind – will first be made available in the US, UK, France and Germany.

Until now, digital downloads of its movies have only been available for Windows and Apple iTunes, the dominant PC and smartphone platforms. Recent months have seen Google itself launch a digital movie rentals service for Android in the US, while Netflix, the streaming service, launched an app for some Android phones in May.

Fox’s move into Android comes six months after Google’s platform overtook Nokia’s Symbian as the world’s biggest-selling smartphone operating system. Its worldwide smartphone market share is expected to climb to 49 per cent by 2012, according to analyst group Gartner, while also capturing some 24 per cent of the tablet market, which is today dominated by Apple’s iPad.

Unlike Apple’s iPhone, which comes tied to its iTunes music and video store, Android has not been seen as a media platform because it has lacked some playback and copy-protection technologies which movie studios require. In December, Google went some way towards addressing studios’ concerns by acquiring Widevine, a rights-management and streaming technology which powers services such as Netflix.

“Given its strong growth as a mobile operating system, the support for Android is an important move for us because it further enhances Blu-ray discs as the best way to get your movies to all your screens,” said Vincent Marcais, senior vice-president for marketing at Twentieth Century Fox International Home Entertainment.

Screen Digest, a research group, reported this month that growth in sales of standalone movie downloads had slowed sooner than expected, dealing a blow to Hollywood’s hope that digital revenues would replace those from DVDs, which are plummeting.

Fox began selling bundles of Blu-ray, DVD and digital copies in 2009 and believes that the combination is a better way to sell content than standalone downloads.

“The starting point for us is that people like to own a movie,” Mr Marcais said. “We need a business model that satisfies that need and Blu-ray is the business model that satisfies that.” He described streaming services that allow online rental without a permanent download such as Lovefilm and Netflix as “good complements” to ownership.

The Blu-ray disc format was designed to anticipate future developments such as 3D TVs and digital delivery, with the forthcoming “Ultraviolet”, a new technology standard, allowing movies and other content to be moved wirelessly from a Blu-ray player to other devices.

“One thing we didn’t anticipate was that people would be walking around with something called a tablet,” Mr Marcais said. “But with the connectivity and interactivity [in Blu-ray] we can now use the tablet as a second screen device to complement what is happening as you watch the big screen.”

Fox is developing new smartphone and tablet apps for Android and Apple, designed to be used in conjunction with a film being watched on the TV, for example allowing social networking, companion materials such as quizzes and actors’ biographies or other interactive features.

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