MSN plays to movie fans with film rentals and downloads

Microsoft is aiming to add some star power to its MSN Internet site by allowing U.S. visitors to rent DVDs, download movies and buy cinema tickets online.

The Redmond, Washington, company announced partnerships with a trio of movie industry players on Thursday, aiming to attract movie fans and more broadband users.

Visitors who want to rent DVDs will be able to sign up to Blockbuster's online service through MSN, which offers unlimited movie rentals, delivered to users' homes three at a time, for US$19.99 a month.

For movies on demand, a partnership with CinemaNow will allow consumers to download movies with prices starting at US$3.99 for a 24-hour viewing period. Monthly subscriptions will also be available, offering limited content downloads for US$9.95 a month to premium movie, music and TV downloads for US$29.95 a month.

Users who prefer to watch movies in the theaters can buy tickets on MSN through MovieTickets.com.

While users can currently rent, download and purchase tickets from various online sources, MSN is hoping that by aggregating the movie offerings on its site, it will be become destination of choice for film fans.

Microsoft has been working to bolster its online presence by adding extra features and content to MSN in recent months, with a focus on attracting broadband users. In May, it teamed with FoxSports.com to create a cobranded sports portal on its MSN network, offering game clips, commentary and other related content. Earlier in the year, the company also announced it was rolling out new blogging and news search services, and it has recently made enhancements to MSN Search.

The added features come as Microsoft works to gird itself against the growing strength of online competitors such as Yahoo and Google, who have been busy lining up their own new wave of offerings.