Universal Studios has signed a deal with broadband network Intertainer to deliver its films in pay-per-view (PPV) and video-on-demand (VoD) format. It is believed to be close to a similar deal with Blockbuster and Enron.

The long-term deal will see Universal provide Intertainer with all its new releases and some film library titles starting later this month. Some library TV product will also be included.

"We believe that video-on-demand is going to become a huge force in home entertainment over the next several years," said Holly Leff-Pressman, senior vice president worldwide pay-per-view & video-on-demand, Universal Television & Networks Group.

Intertainer, which is part owned by Microsoft, last year struck a production and distribution deal with Artisan Entertainment (Screendaily, Jan 27, 2000). Miramax has a 12-picture deal with SightSound.com and last month announced that Guinevere would be the first film available for download (Screendaily Jan 18, 2001). Sony is expected in April to launch its own service Moviefly, with content supplied by its own studios and, possibly, 20th Century Fox. Disney is understood to be aiming for more of a hardware solution, that would see it broadcating over the net to a new set-top box.

Some observers see the studios' embrace of companies such as Intertainer and Sightsound.com as moves to get their content onto web in controllable form at a time when online film piracy is growing. An estimated 400,000 bootlegged films a day are swapped on the net on services such as Freenet, Filetopia and the Internet Relay Chat.

Video rental giant Blockbuster is now netcasting via the broadband network owned by its partner Enron. It is understood to source its films from MGM, Artistan and Lion's Gate and other independent studios.

This week Blockbuster said that it has a verbal understanding with Universal Studios to carry its films, though a deal has not yet been signed.