UScable programming giant Starz Encore and software house RealNetworks havelaunched an internet-based pay-per-view (PPV) service.

The service, dubbed Starz Ticket on Real Movies, willbe a subscription service allowing web users to legally download an unlimitednumber of films for a $12.95 monthly fee.

Movielink, the download site launched by five of theHollywood studios, offers film downloads for a fee of between $3 and $5 pertitle.

StarzEncore, which has over the last five years secured internet distribution rightsto many of the films it licenses for cable distribution, says that it will makesome 100 titles available for download at any one time and update the rosterevery week. Titles available at launch include Finding Nemo and PiratesOf The Caribbean. Starz Encore will also put out a live webcast of itsflagship cable movie channel.

StarzEncore COO, Robert Claasen described the operation as "future-proofing" thecompany's services, whichever delivery mechanism - internet, cable or satellite- turns out to be most popular with viewers.

Thetwo companies first started working on the project some years ago but 18 monthsago postponed a launch until more US homes were connected to broadbandservices. According to some sources, the number of US homes with high-speedinternet has risen from 30 million a year ago to 48 million by February thisyear.

StarzEncore does not expect the service to cannibalise cable or satellite servicesin the early years and predicts that many subscribers will be laptop users,downloading for viewing while on the move.

Othercompanies will be watching carefully. Not only will Starz Encore andRealNetworks have the possibility of offering the service outside the US -provided they secure the content rights - companies including mail-order DVDrental operator NetFlix have promised to follow suit. TiVo, which makes andlicenses digital recording equipment, has also suggested that it will provideinternet download capacity through future models of its set-top boxes.