Universal ispartnering with DVD rental service LoveFilm tooffer UK customers a movie download-to-own service.

The first release will be King Kong, which will be available for permanentdownload on April 10, to coincide with the UK street date for the DVD release.

"Universal is very proud tobe the first to launch this download-to-own model in partnership with LoveFilm, particularly debuting with a film of the calibreof King Kong," said Peter Smith, president of Universal Pictures International."Download-to-own has the potential to completely revolutionise the way peoplewatch movies. The entertainment industry is changing rapidly, with theintroduction of new delivery channels to consumers and an emphasis on instantaccess."

LoveFilm will initially offer 35 Universal films for downloadat LoveFilm.com and also through its partnership with AOL UK (non-LoveFilm subscriberscan use the service after a free registration). Other titles include Pride & Prejudice, Serenity, Doom, and Nanny McPhee.

"The 35 films are just thefirst step," said Eddie Cunningham, chairman of Universal Pictures UK. "Iimagine a time when we make our entire catalogue available, given the speed ofconsumer uptake." Universal also has a large catalogue of TV shows that couldbe made available for download.

LoveFilm said it expected to "make more announcements likethis in the weeks to come" and that it hoped other studios would be interestedin a similar model.

Universal noted that itexpected to build on the experiment in other territories as well. "The US is talking to partners and also keeping an eye onwhat we do here," Cunningham says. "I have no doubt they'll be launchingsomething in the US before too long. We're just delighted to be at the leading edge ofthis."

The move is something of atransitional offering, because consumers won't be able to buy downloads alone.They must buy a download that comes bundled with a traditional DVD that will besent in the post. "We really tried to make it terribly easy to transition,"said Mark Livingstone, CEO of LoveFilm.

Prices will range from$17.40 to $34.80 (£9.99 to £19.99) for the download/DVD combination.

The partners said thehard-copy DVD model was what consumers overwhelmingly wanted right now. "Ithink it will be a transition over time," Cunningham said. "Look at rental bypost. Two years ago none of us had even heard the term, but two years latermore than one quarter of this country's DVD rentals now happen by this vehicle.And electronic is even easier than that. One's got to assume, and the researchalso tells us, that there will be a massive uptake on downloading."

The digital files will bedownloaded to a PC to be played on Windows Media Player 10 (the system isn'tcurrently Macintosh compatible.) A second copy can be synced to a portableplayer with Microsoft Play4Sure technology, such as a Creative Zen, but not toa device such as an iPod. The companies' DigitalRights Management software ensures that a film file cannot be duplicated, burntto a disc, emailed, or uploaded to the web.

LoveFilm has been offering video on demand downloads forseveral months, but only as rentals and not for consumers to own. The companysaid that its target for downloads to rent or buy during the next year would be1m.