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M-Go to announce studio deals for new online video service

September 12, 2012|By Jon Healey
  • A screen shot from the M-Go online video service
A screen shot from the M-Go online video service (M-Go )

M-Go, a Burbank-based online entertainment service founded by DreamWorks Animation and Technicolor, has signed licensing deals with five of the six major Hollywood studios, the company is expected to announce Wednesday. The deals with NBCUniversal, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros. help fill out the library of movie and television titles M-Go will offer when it launches in the fourth quarter.

Unlike Netflix, M-Go doesn't plan to offer unlimited video for a flat monthly fee. Nor does it plan to offer free television reruns, unlike Hulu or the networks' sites. Instead, Chief Executive John Batter said in a recent interview, M-Go will pitch itself as one-stop shopping for thousands of movies and TV episodes, which will be available for rental or purchase.

With its pay-only model and its combination of movies and TV shows, M-Go is positioned to offer a larger array of newly released content than you'd find in most of its competitors' online libraries. One exception is Apple's iTunes, which also has eschewed subscriptions and advertiser-supported content in favor of rentals and sales.

M-Go has an advantage over Apple, though, at least for the moment. Today, using iTunes on a TV screen requires the purchase of a special set-top box or connecting a computer to one's television. When M-Go launches, Batter said, it will be pre-loaded on all Samsung and Vizio Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray disc players in the U.S. And Vizio will add a dedicated M-Go button to its remote controls.

Granted, the installed base of those TVs and Blu-ray players is zero today. But those two brands are a good place to start; according to Batter, they've captured about half of the market.

M-Go will also be pre-loaded on selected WiFi-enabled tablet computers and ultrabook laptops, and will be available as an app for mobile devices. Users will also be able to access M-Go through a Web browser. And in early 2013, the company plans to make a version available for last year's Samsung and Vizio models.

The service features a simple set of menus that are heavy on images and light on text. Users can flip through movies (which M-Go adds to its library as soon as the titles are released on DVD) or TV shows (typically available the day after they're broadcast), with the listings personalized automatically based on the viewer's purchases and ratings. Clicking on a specific title calls up more recommendations, reviews, images and biographies of cast members.

In addition to the algorithmically generated recommendations, M-Go offers a menu of selections curated by M-Go's staff. That sort of human curation, Batter said, is something "I don't think you can ever replace ... with machine logic." A fourth menu offers material related to a few featured programs, and a fifth offers discounted titles.

The company plans to keep its prices in line with its competitors', but don't expect M-Go to follow Amazon's lead and sell some of its inventory at a loss. "You can't win over the long term charging under your costs," Batter said.

Maybe not, but you can make it tough for new rivals to gain a foothold.

One problem that M-Go won't be able to solve for users is the tendency of titles to move in and out of online libraries. Hollywood's release windows and exclusive deals make it impossible for any company to make titles persistently available.

Like all five of its studio partners, M-Go is supporting UltraViolet, the rights-management technology that enables people who buy a movie to stream or download it to many different types of devices. So far, though, UltraViolet applies only to purchased titles, and that represents just a fraction of the online video business.

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Healey writes editorials for The Times. Follow him on Twitter @jcahealey

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