Bell launched its own online video store about a year ago, and now the company has abruptly announced to subscribers via e-mail that the store will be closing as of July 15, 2009.
"The Bell Video Store will be discontinued," reads the e-mail. "As a result, you will not be able to make any new purchases or rentals after June 15."
The note, which also appears on the www.bellvideostore.ca homepage, encourages members with e-coupons to use them by this date in order to get their money's worth; and to "make a backup copy" of any purchased content from the store. If I recall, video downloaded from the site was played back within a proprietary Bell player, but the company's Julie Smithers confirms that the content as a Windows Media (.wmv) file can be transferred to a DVD, hard drive, or other media. But note that the DRM licensing will remain on the computer that the file was originally downloaded to, which means it will only ever be playable on the PC.
At its time of launch in May 2008, the Bell Video Store offered more than 1,500 movies and TV shows for download; including a selection of hot new releases for purchase on the day they became available or shortly after. Prices were $4.99 per movie purchase and $1.99 per rental. The latter would make the film available for viewing for 30 days after it was downloaded, which means that those who rent one by June 15 will still enjoy those same terms prior to the site's closing. A major advantage of the site was the ability for videos to be transferred to compatible Archos portable media players for viewing on-the-go. While members of the site will still be able to transfer videos that were already previously transferred to an Archos player after the Store officially closes on July 15, videos that haven't yet been transferred once will be restricted from being sent to the player after that date. So if you own an Archos player, you've got one month left to get you videos onto the player and view them on the go!
With Bell unfortunately out of the game, this leaves Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace for the Xbox 360 gaming console and the iTunes download Website as the only major online video delivery services left in Canada. On a positive note, Xbox Canada's Platform Manager, Craig Flannagan, did confirm to Marketnews during E3 last week that we'd see downloadable TV content added to the Xbox Marketplace in Canada by the Fall, as well as a greater selection of movies.
Smithers says Bell decided to close the store in order to focus more of its efforts on the Bell TV online portal (www.bell.ca/tvonline), which works in tandem with an existing Bell TV subscription to afford subscribers access to things like the program guide, the ability to purchase pay-per-view content to later watch on the TV, and to view movie trailers. Additionally, subscribers to NHL Centre Ice can watch games through the portal.
"We're looking to add new features over the next few months," she explains, "and are using the infrastructure and key learnings from the Video Store." Smithers cannot confirm, however, if the company will get back into offering movies and TV show downloads online.
While the increased focus on Bell TV might have been a large reason for the decision to close the site, increasing competition from the other two juggernauts, iTunes and Xbox, may have also driven the site to close.