Paramount to Start Online Service to Sell Movie Clips

The New York Times, December 14, 2009, by Brooks Barnes

LOS ANGELES — Paramount Pictures, looking for new ways to turn its old movies into cash, especially as DVD sales continue to decline, is creating an online video clip service that will allow users to search hundreds of feature films on a frame-by-frame basis.

Feeling “the need for speed,” as Tom Cruise put it in “Top Gun”? Log on to ParamountClips.com, search for the exact video snippet you want and press the checkout button. Within minutes — with the price depending on the type of licensing use you have in mind — Paramount will electronically deliver the selection in the format and resolution desired. Most scenes are available in multiple languages.

The site, to be introduced on Tuesday, is powered by VideoSense, an automated indexing tool developed by the technology company Digitalsmiths. Using proprietary video interpretation systems, Digitalsmiths allows films to be quickly searched by specific actor, line of dialogue, location, genre or product, among other criteria.

Paramount will initially restrict use to business customers — advertising agencies, mobile carriers, foreign broadcasters — that want to license pieces of films for commercial use. The plan is to ultimately open the site to consumers. People wanting to embed a specific scene from “The Godfather” on their blog could go to ParamountClips.com and buy it.

The service reflects a renewed effort in Hollywood to create fresh content from existing libraries, much as ring tones became a blockbuster offering for the music industry. Movie and television studios, suffering from a steep drop in DVD sales, are hopeful that serving up clips can become a business in itself while also stoking demand for the films in their entirety.

Although clips from films like “The Godfather” are already available free on YouTube, analysts said the new service was a chance worth taking.

“This Digitalsmiths technology is very impressive because it gives the ability to slice and dice and remodify content in a safe, automated way,” said Bobby Tulsiani, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

“It remains to be seen if it opens up a new business opportunity, but we didn’t think people were going to pay for ring tones, either,” he added.

Paramount’s new service will initially allow users to search 80 films, including “The Godfather,” “Forrest Gump,” “Grease” and “The Addams Family.” More than 200 films will follow, with the ultimate goal being about 1,000 movies, or about a third of the studio’s total library, according to Geremie Camara, vice president of product development for Paramount Digital Entertainment.

Ben Weinberger, chief executive of Digitalsmiths, which is based in North Carolina, would not discuss pricing or say how much it cost to index movies; Mr. Camara also refused to provide financial information. Generally speaking, however, clip pricing ranges from technically free (a foreign network buys a movie and as part of the deal gets usage of a certain number of clips for promotion) to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a clip used in a national advertising campaign. The bigger the movie, the more expensive the clip: “The Godfather” is almost certainly going to cost you more than “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” although it depends on the usage.

As for individual use, no pricing has been set but it will most likely follow the ring-tone model: Licensing a snippet of a song for a commercial is expensive, but a ring tone of the same snippet for personal use costs 99 cents.