What’s even funnier is just a month after the Oscars, Hollywood studios announced they would sell downloads of recent releases online. What’s more, while these downloads can be burned onto DVDs, the discs will not play in DVD machines. Instead, these downloads will only play on computers and TVs connected to computers.

Yes, that’s right. It was only a few weeks ago when Hollywood dissed watching movies on anything but the big screen. Now they want movie fans to buy something to play on screens that are generally smaller than most television sets.

Six studios – Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox and MGM – announced they will sell both first-run and older titles on Movielink. Prices for first-run flicks will be comparable to DVD prices and will run anywhere between $20 and $30. Older films are expected to sell somewhere between $10 and $20.

If you think the movie companies are trying to head off downloading piracy, you are correct. Plus, with more home entertainment systems being built around computers, the inability to play the resulting discs on current DVD players will eventually become a moot point. Eventually, that is.

However, as iTunes has already shown the world, a turnkey system is what it takes for the masses to catch on. And hooking up a computer to a TV in order to play digital files, while not necessarily rocket science, is probably not a practical suggestion for those who can barely operate their remote controls.

“The important thing is to embrace the future, respect the economics of DVD but move forward into digital delivery,” said Ben Feingold, president of Sony Pictures’ Worldwide Home Entertainment.

The Big ‘S’

Speaking of movies…

The premiere of “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown” was the big winner during the first weekend of April, taking in just more than $70 million at the box office and beating that highly promoted other sequel, “Basic Instinct 2” by about $67 million.

But the online buzz among movie fans during the same weekend wasn’t about the computer animation hit, but rather about another piece of animation that ran just before the main event.

Clocking in at less than 30 seconds, what caught audiences’ imaginations was a simple movie trailer officially announcing what fans have been waiting 17 years for – a movie starring Homer Simpson and the denizens of Springfield, USA.

Rumors of a Simpsons movie have been floating around for years. But the trailer, shown without any advance warning, finally made official what fans have hoped and dreamed of ever since Homer and his brood appeared on the then-fledgling Fox TV network back in the late 1980s.

News of the film, scheduled for release in July 2007, quickly made it to movie gossip sites such as AintItCoolNews.com, and eventually became headline material on both Reuters and Associated Press by the end of the weekend. “Ice Age 2” may have dominated at the box office, but “The Simpsons” movie trailer dominated the movie buzz.

While the movie trailer was hot news, the only place you could see the clip was at the theaters. Fair enough. After all, Fox can do whatever they want with their intellectual property. But by the end of the weekend a copy of the clip, which was probably recorded from that Sunday night’s Simpson television episode broadcast that also featured the trailer, appeared for a short time on YouTube.com.

Naturally, entertainment Web sites and bloggers linked to the clip, but by Monday morning YouTube had already removed the item, citing a copyright violation.

Think about this for a minute. The clip wasn’t a program, a song, film nor a TV episode. It was a movie trailer. In other words, an advertisement. In a world where people can skip ads by fast forwarding their TiVos or by spending a few minutes channel surfing, getting audiences to stick through advertisements is getting darn near impossible.

Yet the Simpsons movie trailer represented an advertisement that people wanted to see. And when you have a large enough audience that actually wants to look at any advertisement, you just gotta wonder which is more important: letting them look, or expending energy keeping them from looking.

To Fox’s credit, the company’s Web site eventually authorized a legal copy of the clip to be posted on Apple’s Quicktime movie trailer site and linked to it from their own Fox.com. Guess that kept more than a few Fox marketers from screaming, “Doh!”