While movie download services already exist--like Cinemanow and Movielink--the deal is a first for both Universal and Peer Impact, which is owned by Wurld Media.
Gregory Kerber, chairman and CEO of Wurld Media, said he intended to build the company into a major content distribution hub.
"Beyond our music tracks and video games, we're building Peer Impact into consumers' one-point access for all digital media," said Kerber. "Universal is just the first of many movie partners."
But if Peer Impact, or any aspiring hub, is to compete successfully against AOL or Yahoo!, it will need to amass as many content partners as possible, said Mike McGuire, a Gartner research director. "Consumers want to go where they can get everything," McGuire said. "Siloed content running on different platforms is what got the music industry into trouble."
McGuire added that Universal's move to distribute online made strategic sense. "Everyone's getting into the distribution race," he said, adding: "pretty soon, if you're not distributing over every medium, there's something wrong."
Universal's movies will become available via Peer Impact's network 30 to 45 days after they are released on DVD, according to an NBC Universal spokeswoman. By that time, she said, the movies will likely already be available on cable video-on-demand services.
While Peer Impact will distribute select NBC television specials, it will not sell prime-time offerings, the company spokeswoman said.
Although Peer Impact users only gain access to the Universal films they download for 24 hours, the films actually remain on their hard drives for about one month.
In October, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced that his company was putting an online download service on hold, because the movie studio's exclusive agreements with HBO and other pay TV outlets currently limit available content.