Warner Bros. to Launch Digital Video Rental Service in China

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Warner Bros. will launch a digital film rental service in partnership with a Beijing-based broadband company, bringing licensed viewing of many of its film titles to China for the first time, it said Tuesday.

Users will be able to download or stream DRM (Digital Rights Management)-protected copies of films including "I Am Legend," "Fool's Gold" and "Speed Racer" for a cost of 4 yuan to 7 yuan (US$0.59-1.03) each through the service that will be run by Union Voole.

The price reflects competition from piracy, which is still a significant problem in China. Unauthorized DVD copies of blockbusters and other popular titles available for 10 yuan each, or broadcast-quality copies available online for free download or stream.

Union Voole is a Beijing-based online video company that was founded in 2006 and offers films for online viewing or download. The company also has agreements with Sony Pictures and Korean broadcaster MBC.

It is one of 247 online video sites approved in June by the State Administration of Film, Radio and Television (SARFT), which regulates broadcast content in China, both online and offline. That list has since altered, with new sites such as market leader Youku.com receiving a license, and 10 others ordered to shut down last week.

China imports only 20 foreign films per year for theatrical release, although there is no specific limit on foreign films approved for home video. Viewing online video is Chinese Internet users' fourth most-popular application, ahead of search and e-mail, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre's July 2008 survey.

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