Mobile entertainment company mSpot last fall began allowing customers to stream full-length movies to cell phones, taking on the likes of Apple's iTunes. Six months later, the company is extending the service so people can watch movies on PCs and Macs as well as mobile devices.
What's more, a viewer can start watching a film on their phone and pick it up where they left off on a home computer, or vice versa, with a single account logon and a 3G or Wi-Fi connection. The expanded offering is available on 50 different smartphone models including the iPhone BlackBerry, Android, Palm and Windows Mobile devices and on all four major U.S. carriers.
"We are no longer tied to a specific location or device when accessing email, Internet, music, and now, movies," said mSpot CEO Daren Tsui. "Our new service is the first of its kind to fully leverage the latest technology, making the experience of watching a movie easier and more seamless than ever."
Tsui said mSpot has 6 million paid customers across all of its content services including ringtones and Internet radio, with movie-streaming accounting for about 1.5 million. It now offers about 1,000 titles including recent releases from each of the major movies studios except 20th Century Fox, according to Tsui.
Individual films cost $4.99 to rent, or users can sign up for monthly subscriptions of $9.99, $12.99 or $15.99 to get up to four, six or eight movies a month. Rentals can last from 24 hours to five days, depending on the title. Tsui said the pricing will remain unchanged, with the aim of increasing the overall audience across platforms.
The CEO pointed out that the only exception to resuming a movie where you left off is when shifting to or from an iPhone to a PC or other phone, because the iPhone's native video player doesn't support that function beyond the device itself. In the third quarter, mSpot plans to release a new iPhone app with a broader selection of movies -- the current one only offers horror films.
Tsui also conceded that because mSpot's movie service is reliant on the quality of the 3G or Wi-Fi connection it's streaming on, things can sometimes get bumpy. "It does impact our business a little bit," he said. But with 3G services improving and the major carriers rolling out 4G connections this year, Tsui expects the user experience to become more seamless over time.
And while he still believes streaming is generally more convenient than having to download a movie, Tsui said mSpot will also begin offering that option later this year. "We will add DRM (digital rights management) so that folks that want to sideload movies to watch on an airplane will able to do that," he said.
Mobile broadcaster MobiTV last week introduced a new DRM system that allows users to store content on their handsets for later offline viewing across multiple devices and platforms. The company -- which offers programming from CNN, NBC, ABC News and ESPN, among others -- says it has more than 8 million customers.
Looking ahead to the long-awaited launch of the iPad next week, mSpot is also eyeing an application tailored to the Apple tablet. With its larger, movie-friendly screen, "we think we're going to generate additional revenue from iPad subscribers," said Tsui.