File-hosting site Ulož.to plans Netflix-style on-demand service


The on-demand streaming technology that has caused a revolution in the American film and television industries has yet to catch on in a big way in the Czech Republic, with many viewers either sticking to traditional formats or downloading illegally from the internet.

That situation could change with the news that the Czech file-hosting service Ulož.to (Store It) is planning to launch a new product along the same lines as the hugely successful American subscription service Netflix.

Ulož.to is the country’s biggest file-hosting site and it is the first place many Czechs turn when looking for the latest international hit movies and television serials, many of which have not been released, and may never be released, in the Czech Republic.

People place films and music on Ulož.to that can in almost all cases then be downloaded by any other user of the free service. This practice is against the law, as those who upload the material do not have the right to do so and the copyright holders do not see a single crown.

Now Ulož.to is planning a new approach. Alongside its successful file-sharing platform it plans to launch a new service offering paid content, with talks currently ongoing with a number of players in the field, the news website recently.

Jan Karabina of Nodus Technologies, which runs Ulož.to, told there was demand on the Czech market for an online “video rental”. He said he and his colleagues were in negotiations with potential partners in the Czech Republic and other countries on creating a new service to meet that hitherto little-tapped demand.

Mr. Karabina said he believed Czechs would be willing to pay a certain amount to watch films online, adding that the Netflix on-demand model that has proved such a success in the US was “ideal”. Its subscribers pay less than USD 10 a month for an extremely broad selection of content.

Netflix has over 20 million subscribers in the US and is available in several European countries. However, it is not accessible in the Czech Republic because, in the words of Mr. Karabina, of the Hollywood studios’ fears of internet piracy in this part of the world.

There are a number of companies already providing a similar service in the Czech Republic, including O2, Topfun, Voyo, Ivio, HBO GO (mainly accessible to some of the channel’s subscribers) and 31s (which offers Czech movies for a voluntary sum but recommends viewers pay CZK 25), as well as Doc Alliance, which offers documentaries.

However, all of the above are hamstrung by the same problem: None of them above offer anything like the number of movies that can currently be downloaded illegally on Ulož.to.

If and when the Ulož.to’s mooted Netflix equivalent materialises it is likely to raise an interesting question: Will Czechs pay even an apparently small amount for more or less what many – especially young people – are now used to getting for nothing?