Major film producer Twentieth Century Fox has become the latest to offer its movies for download weeks before they become available on either DVD or Blu-Ray.
The move, by the News Corporation company, means digital sales of high-definition new movies will be on offer two to three weeks before they come out on DVD or video-on-demand services.
Science fiction film Alien: Prometheus, which has taken a massive £375m at the box office, will become the first release to be sold online for less than hard copies – for $15 instead of $20. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie will be downloadable from September 18 whereas those who want to buy hard copies will have to wait until October 11.
Fox’s co chairman Jim Gianopulus said Prometheus had been chosen to start the new service because of Scott’s following of hard-core fans and because science-fiction fans tend to be “digitally savvy consumers”.
Other big Fox films like Ice Age: Continental Drift and The Watch are also due to be available at a reduced price before the discs come out.
The e-films will be given the name Digital HD, or DHD for short.
The scheme will be trialled first in America but as Tesco is known to be a supporter, it could soon come to the UK too.
Originally put together to combat piracy, the digital service UltraViolet will be making the movie, and others in the future, available.
Huge players in the industry, including Walmart, Microsoft, HP, Netflix, Lovefilm and Sony, have signed up to be part of UltraViolet in a 75-strong coalition.
UltraViolet has also won the backing of Warner Bros and Universal Pictures but Apple is refusing to join the consortium, instead offering films and TV shows through its own iTunes service.
They are all hoping that by offering the new releases quicker customers will not be tempted to turn to illegal downloads.
It means the so-called theatrical window, which used to be around four months, is being shortened to encourage consumers to buy instead of rent films at a lower price.
Once you’ve bought your movie, you can stream or download it whenever you want and because one UV account can be used by up to six people, families need pay for only one subscription.
Gianopulos said the company had felt “it was a good time to take a more dramatic step” in a bid to encourage the sales of its movies.
It is thought the new wave of downloads could lead to DVDs and Blu-ray sales falling in the same way that CD sales have in recent years.
According to recent figures digital download music sales in the UK are continuing to rise with 26.6m downloaded albums sold, a huge 24% increase on 2010, the previous year.
The British Phonographic Society has blamed the decline on piracy. Fox’s bosses and the rest of the UltraViolet consortium will be hoping their new scheme boosts movie sales while providing a piracy solution.