Below is a timeline for all of the notable events pertaining to the purchasing/rental (physical), downloading or streaming of movies through the internet. It should be noted that this website uses the term, “Home Video,” in two different ways. Firstly, it uses it as an umbrella term for the viewing of movies in the home, physical or otherwise. Secondly, its also the label given to the era in time where movies are being released on physical video formats.
April 21st, 1997 (PR Newswire, 1997/04/21, p. 1)
Reel.com is the first to use an online ordering form for the rental of movies. They launch their service with 35,000 titles available for rent. Although much smaller websites, such as Home Film Festival (homefilmfestival.com), Video Wasteland (slaughter.net) and Video Vault (videovault.com) were already renting videos over the internet, they required calling or e-mailing an order in.
April, 1998 (Billboard, 1998/05/16, p. 53)
With the company established the previous year, Netflix launches their online DVD rental service with 925 titles available for rent for $5 each.
June 1st, 1999
Although mainly a music sharing platform (due to internet speeds at the time), it paved the way for subsequent peer-to-peer sharing programs that would allow the sharing of all files, including videos.
March 14th, 2000
First available for download on the developer’s website, Nullsoft.com, it is the first peer-to-peer network to be decentralized. Rather than searching a single centralized index for the location of files, the load is shared among all the peers of the network, resulting in a more robust system. Unlike Napster, it allowed for the downloading of any file types, including video. The software was quickly reverse engineered and used for subsequent peer-to-peer platforms.
February 12th, 2001 (New York Times, 2001/02/13, p. A1)
In a lawsuit filed by A&M Records (and all members of the RIAA) on December 6th, 1999, the courts find Napster liable for the infringing use of their peer-to-peer software. An injunction forces the company to shut down the service on July 11th, 2001. It later reemerges as a pay service, but shuts down indefinitely on September 3rd, 2002.
July 2nd, 2001
BitTorrent, a decentralized peer-to-peer protocol which uses torrent files and trackers, is first launched on bitconjurer.org. It later becomes the most used method to download feature films from the internet.
June 23rd, 2005 (New York Times, 2005/06/24, p. C5)
In 2004, MGM opened a suit against Grokster and two others for distributing software that they feel promotes the illegal downloading of copyrighted content. The resulting battle is seen by many as a re-examination of the “Betamax Case.” On June 23rd, the Supreme Court decides in favor of MGM, finding that Grokster is liable for any infringement perpetrated by the users of their software.
July 4th, 2005 (Gazette, 2005/07/04, p. D2)
Following the Grokster case, its announced that Hollywood had begun to digitize their films for legal online viewing. Sony, Universal and Warner are reported to already have the process underway. Warner specifically, by this time, reveals they’ve already had their entire catalog of approximately 5,000 films digitized.
October 12th, 2005 (Wall Street Journal, 2005/10/13, p. B1)
Apple announces iTunes 6, the latest incarnation of their music downloading software. This time around, it allows users to purchase music videos and TV shows for viewing on their latest iPod model.
September 7th, 2006 (Business Wire. 2006/09/07, p.1)
Amazon’s Unbox program becomes available through their website. For a rental or purchase price, users could download or stream “DVD-quality” movies and television. Their name would change several times, including “Amazon On Demand” and “Amazon Instant Video.” It would eventually settle on Amazon Prime Video.
September 12th, 2006 (Chicago Tribune, 2006/09/13, p. 3)
Apple finally announces full-length movies to be played back on the iPod. They open with 75 titles from the Walt Disney Company, each costing between $9.99 and $14.99.
January, 2007 (New York Times, 2007/01/25, p. C1)
Netflix slowly rolls out their movie streaming service at 250,000 customers at a time. Its a subscription-based streaming only service. Depending of the subscription, users are given an allotment of viewing hours each month. There are 1,000 titles to choose from at launch. The rollout is expected to complete by July.
March 22nd, 2007 (Worldwide Computer Products, 2007/03/22, p. 1)
Apple TV, the first widely popular internet streaming device for television sets, begins shipping to retailers. It streams 720p video, has 40 GB of internal storage and play music and video content from ones iTunes account. Apple also announces in May that YouTube will soon be added to the device. Priced at $299.
May 20th, 2008 (PR Newswire, 2008/05/20)
Roku begins rolling out their TV streaming device. Built in collaboration with Netflix, the device allows the streaming of over 10,000 movies on the Netflix platform to your television screen. It costs $99.99.
August 1st, 2011 https://www.reuters.com/article/idUS317363613120110802
In April, a group of Hollywood studios lead by Warner Brothers, sued WTV Systems, the parent company to DVD-streaming service, Zediva.com. A court injunction shuts down the service, finding that copyright holders ought to have the right to determine how their films are viewed. Zediva responded to the decision, stating, “Today’s ruling represents a setback for the hundreds of thousands of consumers looking for an alternative to Hollywood-controlled online movie services.”