Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

(Based on a true story.)

During fourthmeal a few days ago, I realized that I
couldn't well let my fellow Engadget columnist Stephen Speicher grab all the Internet video glory with his recent tripartite YouTube encomium, so I decided to spend some time this week with an Internet video service that trades in good ol' Hollywood-produced motion pictures.

Announced at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show, Vongo is offered by the Starz Entertainment Group and competes with other PC-targeted movie services CinemaNow and MovieLink. Much as the iTunes Music Store gained credibility by letting people buy music the way they do in the physical world, Vongo has received accolades by operating similarly to a premium cable network or even a service such as Netflix.

For a relatively low subscription price of about $10 per month, you can watch as many movies as you like on the service on up to three PCs as well as watch a video feed of the Starz premium movie channel, Vongo is also working on support for portable video "sideloading" to devices that use Microsoft's Portable Media Center platform.

Vongo also offers "pay per view" movies at $3.99 per viewing. I tried the latter option for my first crack at Vongo, choosing the movie Flightplan, the 2005 thriller in the Hitchcock tradition starring Jodie Foster and directed by Robert Schwentke.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, a mother and young daughter board an airplane the mother helped to design, but the mom wakes up from a mid-flight nap to find the little girl, who had the seat next to hers, has disappeared. After having the flight crew and captain search for the missing child, the mother is told that there's no record of her ever having been on the flight. The ensuing drama includes many scenes of Ms. Foster practically tearing the plane apart screaming, "Where is my daughter!? WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER!?"

I purchased Flightplan and started to watch the first few minutes, but soon became busy with other things and it was getting late, so I turned in. I didn't get back to the PC I'd downloaded it to until even later the next evening, and fired up the Vongo application, eager to see what became of the main character's daughter.

I clicked "My Library," which lists the movies you downloaded, only to find my movie wasn't there. Hmmm, that was strange. I also checked the Download Manager, which lists movies along with their expiration. But my little movie couldn't be found there, either. It didn't make sense. It-- it was just sitting there on my hard drive right next to me. In plain view !I didn't understand what could have happened.

I mean, I built this PC myself. I knew every cable, every component. How could my adorable little movie just disappear into thin air like this? It was time to call my friends Norton and McAfee, but -- no -- they couldn't find my little movie, either. I demanded to speak to a manager at Vongo customer service!

"Mr. Rubin, I'm sorry, but your movie expired after 24 hours. There's been no trace of your movie in Vongo since then."

"No! No! That's impossible! I bought that movie! I only saw the first six minutes of it. I know it's somewhere here on my hard drive! Maybe it got stuck in the application code, or trapped in the video card, or maybe here, here in the DVI port. Where is my movie!? WHERE IS MY MOVIE!???"


Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group and a contributing editor for LAPTOP. Views expressed in Switched On are his own. Feedback is welcome at fliptheswitch@gmail.com.

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