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Fox to put awards screeners on iTunes for SAG members

IPad The Hollywood awards screener is finally catching up with the digital age. In a first for the industry, Fox Filmed Entertainment will make three current releases from its Fox Searchlight movie unit that were nominated for Screen Actors Guild awards -- "Black Swan," "127 Hours," and "Conviction" -- available as free downloads from Apple Inc.'s iTunes to all of the acting guild's nearly 100,000 voting members.

The move could mark the first step in an industry-wide shift toward making digital copies of movies available to voters for all awards, eventually ending the costly, time-honored practice of producing and sending physical copies of their DVDs.

Fox co-Chairman Jim Gianopulos said his studio is also in talks with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose members vote for the Oscars, and with the British Film Academy, about making iTunes downloads available to their voters as well even though they have already been sent DVD screeners.

SAG members will get a code they can use to download the three Fox Searchlight films in high definition and watch them on a computer, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or on television via Apple TV. As with any iTunes rental, films can be watched as many times as the voter wants during a 24-hour period. They will be available from Jan. 7 until Jan. 28, the day votes are due. The SAG awards will be presented Jan. 30.

Studios regularly send DVDs with watermarks -- which identify the video as belonging to a specific person in case it leaks onto the Internet -- to voters in various awards groups. However, Gianopulos said his studio had never before found a way to get screeners to SAG members.

"When you're dealing with this large a number of voters, it's extremely difficult in terms of logistics and would be cost prohibitive to produce and ship screeners to every SAG member," he said, adding that it would likely cost "many millions of dollars" to do so.

The deal, which Gianopulos pitched to and struck with iTunes chief Eddy Cue, will quite possibly prompt other studios to make screeners available via Apple or other digital outlets. That could particularly be true for those whose films are also nominated for SAG Awards and that may feel at a competitive disadvantage.

Screeners have always been controversial in Hollywood, as studios have weighed competing worries about piracy and desires to promote their films to awards voters. In 2003, the Motion Picture Assn. of America unsuccessful attempted to ban screeners. Some studios later participated in a failed test to send Oscar voters special DVD players that could play screeners with stronger copy protection than normal DVDs.

More recently, studios have returned to sending normal discs along with watermarks to crack down on any members who allow their copies to leak online.

iTunes downloads feature much stronger copy protection than DVDs, however, and can only be watched during a 24-hour period, making it easier for studios to showcase their films to voters securely. Gianopulos noted that they could also be useful for people who want to watch a movie on a portable device or before watermarked discs have been produced.

"This could eventually be an alternative for all awards voters to give them access to our films at an earlier stage or while they are traveling," he said. "It's what technology is all about: Giving people more choices to view films while still recognizing that we would always prefer that they see it in a theater if possible."

SAG members will receive an e-mail from the guild and a postcard from Fox Searchlight with instructions on accessing a download code from the studio's website.

--Ben Fritz

[Update, Jan. 8, 11:23 A.M.: See the story in today's Times for much more on awards screeners on iTunes]

Photo: A customer with an iPad at an Apple store. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press.

 
Comments () | Archives (12)

But you can only watch these screeners on your iPad, PC or Mac, or on an HDTV with Apple TV. Unless you have Apple TV, which will be few people, then you really aren't getting a movie experience on a small screen. So, I'm disappointed, especially for Conviction which has been available no where to see on screen and it hasn't yet been released on DVD to watch on my big-screen TV at home. While I think this offers an inexpensive way to distribute these films, I do think it cheapens the experience in these formats and ultimately, therefore, gives little competitive advantage.

Evidently FOX doesn't want a SAG Award.

They are doing a great disservice to these wonderful films. Films like these are made to be watched on the big screen; and if not there, a wide screen television.

On a computer......or even phone?!?! I implore all SAG members, and Academy members to boycott FOX films this year. What an insult not only to the viewers, but to those who worked tirelessly on these films.

Are they really trying to be 'green,' or is FOX just CHEAP!!

People want to watch movies on the big screen or in the comfort of their own home at their leisure not within 24 hours on the computer they've been working on all day. Ridiculous and cheap on their part. I will NOT vote on any movie that's not readily available with multiple screenings and or screeners I get in the mail. Plain and simple. So the ones that lose out are the actors that are nominated.

They should just let SAG members screen in theaters year long like they do for DGA.

Plus the itunes download doesn't even work on a PC! Will only play is you have a mac or a pc that has window 7 (and I don't know anyone who does). Very dissapointing! Sorry Fox Searchlight, wish I could have seen your film so I could have voted for it. You should have thought this through a little more.

All the screenings for Black Swan have been for other guilds EXCEPT for SAG since because of their numbers, a cheaper alternative was needed. The only winner is FOX and Apple since you can't even watch this on home theatre without a $99 Apple TV device. The losers are SAG members and the actors of these films who will not be getting SAG votes unless they pay to go see them. When Netflix has HD with 5.1 sound deliverered by unique code, it may be a viable viewing alternative but this method is just FOX Searchlight being cheap.

So, AMPAS, WGA, and DGA get screenings at theaters and SAG members get a viewing on their computers? We’ll keep that in mind when we vote

This itunes/postcard code is a lot of trouble. If you dont have an account you need to make one. Ok no big deal, but if you already inputted the code before you made the account then you are out of luck"code already used".
Also I had to call SAG awards to get the code, because my(and 4 other people in SAG I know) postcard didn't have the codes or pin numbers..Good idea, but fix the problems...

You can't even watch the movies if you have Windows 7! I spent hours on the phone with SAG, Dell and Itunes/Apple and no one could help me. Although, Apple shouldn't be expected to understand why a PC won't play a movie but I'll bet they're not surprised.

I can confirm the above. You cannot wath these on a PC running XP. You must have Windows 7. I'll remeber this little exercise in time wasting when I vote.

Why not distribute Apple TVs to all voting guild and critics org members? I still have one of those huge Dolby Labs DVD players (now a doorstop) they sent a few years ago. I bet those cost a whole lot more than an Apple TV device. I'd hate to view award candidates on my computer -- that's why I have a home theater. So send me the Apple TV and I'll be happy to view downloads. Admittedly SAG is huge -- but it would be a one time cost that should be viable for 5 - 8 years.

Has anyone heard of a HDMI cable? Plug in one end into your computer and the other into your HDTV. Tada!


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