Legal DVD burning was the final hurdle. Online file-sharing networks offer free access to pirated movies with no copying restrictions. And the studios have fought to block sales of software that enables people to make unauthorized copies of their DVDs.
CinemaNow in the spring launched a closely watched online experiment with pornography producer Vivid Entertainment Group. That service, which allowed DVD burning, served as a high-profile test for the mainstream studios and demonstrated that CinemaNow's anti-piracy technology was robust enough and could produce discs playable in a standard DVD player.
"We began taking this around to the studios two or three months ago," said Marvis. "As you can imagine, it's been a challenging process to convince them of everything."
The limited scope of titles available in the initial phase of CinemaNow's service will limit its usefulness for learning whether consumers are ready to pay to burn DVD movies at home, analysts said.
"It's difficult to learn things when you don't have a real live hit, so your test case isn't as good as it could be," Jupiter's Card said. "If they had a fairly full collection of current popular hits, then you might say I'm learning about how much demand there really is for these services, what kind of digital rights management consumers would put up with, how is the ease of use?"
Forrester's Bernoff said the studios wouldn't be able to measure the potential of online movies until they started offering blockbusters.
"There's a huge amount of interest in this," he said. "The results of this will be scrutinized very closely. I just wish they'd come out with something better than 'Charlie's Angles: Full Throttle.' They need movies that people want to pirate."