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Broadcast.com's Casablanca will be 1st Internet Major Motion Picture

Ready or not, here it comes. Last week, Broadcast.com announced that it will begin streaming movies over the Internet this month, starting with the Humphrey Bogart/Ingrid Bergman classic Casablanca.

However, don't expect a seamless transmission. Bandwidth limitations, server bottlenecks, and any of a hundred unpredictable glitches will impede the debut of streaming movies on the Internet, a phenomenon many observers have characterized as "dancing-elephant technology"---it's amazing because it's being done at all, not because it's good. The frame rate on most viewers' screens will likely be low enough to give the video a jerky, silent-movie effect.

The first Internet movie won't be a technological tour-de-force. Broadcast.com has wisely decided to ease into this venture with a relatively undemanding black-and-white film with a mono soundtrack. However, the company has reportedly stockpiled as many as 3000 titles for eventual digital distribution, and it is encoding about 200 hours of film and video each week for its archive. Turner Classic Movies is cooperating in the project, loaning films for digital conversion and promoting Broadcast.com's Casablanca as a prelude to its own broadcast of the film sometime late this month.

Most computer users are not yet equipped to receive high-quality, real-time audio and video, but there is little doubt that it's coming. Transmission rates and available bandwidth seem to increase almost daily, and in a few years, large numbers of people will possess sufficiently high technology to enjoy movies piped directly to their desktops. Whether anyone will be interested in actually paying for such a service once the novelty wears off is an unanswered question, but Broadcast.com is preparing for the future by positioning itself today.

The company hopes to establish itself as the leading source for Internet film and video, and investors have apparently taken Broadcast.com's new move as a positive sign. The company's stock has more than doubled from a low of $32.75/share in early September. It closed at $71/share on Friday, December 18, not far below its all-time high of $79/share just two weeks earlier.

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