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CinemaNow and Thomson’s (NYSE:TMS) Technicolor just announced a partnership to provide an end-to-end platform for online content delivery to consumers. CinemaNow will contribute its studio-licensed content and a storefront, while Technicolor will provide encoding, encryption, rights management, and content delivery services. (I hadn’t known until now that Technicolor runs its own CDN, but it does.)

The platform will extend all the way from content origination to consumer devices. The press release mentions CinemaNow partners such as Samsung, Archos, Dish Network, and HP as providing compatible hardware for the platform.

What isn’t mentioned is the engine “inside” that will make this work at the device level. I’m sure Macrovision (NASDAQ: MVSN) is in the mix, as it already has deals with CinemaNow and Samsung for its Macrovision Connected technology. Presumably Dish/Echostar set-top boxes will get the Connected treatment also, which is certified DLNA compliant.

There are advantages to the middleman model, especially in providing a mechanism to drive digital living technology into more electronics gear. But is it a long-term solution?

Making it easy for anyone to become an online content retailer will lead to… well… lots of online content retailers. Most of them poorly differentiated and few with any staying power. And when the customers dry up, where will the middlemen be?

Imagine the early days of television, except with dozens of TV networks. If they had all broadcast the same programs, or nearly the same, how many of those networks would have survived? Sort of like Internet video portals today. Home video delivery will be no different.

I think to succeed as an online retailer will require one of two things:

  1. Exclusive content. Not really in the best interests of the content providers, who want as broad a reach as possible and who are tired of being restricted by their distribution partners.
  2. Something to make the channel sticky. My best guess remains either unsurpassed ease-of-use (e.g. iTunes) or most likely some form of social networking. DivX’s Stage6 had a fair amount of success here.

Those few online retailers that get the formula right will probably try to disintermediate the enablers. Or the middlemen will acquire the portals. Or both. (Me? I’m a big fan of horizontal separation.)

In the meantime, look to partnerships such as this one to facilitate the home viewing transition from discs to a full media download market.

Disclosure: I have no position in any of the stocks mentioned here.

Source: CinemaNow, Technicolor Become Enablers