Film Rentals from iTunes on the Horizon

Apple are going to provide DVD rental through iTunes. Both the Financial Times and New York Times are carrying a story describing how Apple and Fox have signed a deal allowing Fox’s films to be included in the service; one presumes a single leak provides the bulk of both stories.

I’m not sure how I missed this post which describes a dozen or so suggestive strings inside the current iTunes package, given my previous musings on the topic of film rental via iTunes.

If past record is much to go by, the rental service will be available only in the US initially, meaning I won’t be able to actually try the service out until it expands into the UK.

I’m curious about several aspect of any rental offering:

	- How long between choosing a film and being able to watch it---can I decide what to watch before dinner and sit down to it afterwards? Or will it be even quicker?
	- What the terms of rental are. Will they be a specific period of time or a number of viewings? I'm not sure which I'd prefer.
	- What quality will the films be? As my media hub is an old mac mini, I hope not so high the mini cannot cut it.
	- What the film selection will be like; my tastes tend towards the obscure.
	- And, obviously, how much the service costs. Can it undercut my current Amazon subscription?

The NYT article cites Amazon and MovieLink as services already offering digital rentals. These services may help answer some of the above questions.

Amazon offer rentals from $0.99, with a 30-day period in which to start watching the film. After you start the film, you have 24 hours to finish watching it. Amazon have estimates of around an hour between choosing a film and being able to watch it. Amazon’s files work only on Windows.

MovieLink’s service is similarly Windows only. Their rentals appear to have similar 30-day to start, 24-hours to complete time restrictions. The film Transformers is a $3.99 rental from MovieLink, compared to Amazon’s $0.99. This seems a very large price difference.

I couldn’t find any detail on the quality of the films, but judging by the quality of what you can download in an hour I would estimate reasonable but not stunning. No HD, for example. Good for me, but not so good for those with capable equipment.

Apple’s strengths over the current offerings is their provision of the entire hardware and software stack. Renting a film and watching it via your Apple TV, for example, should work perfectly as should watching it on your laptop. Both Amazon and MovieLink rely on custom Windows Media players, making them beholden to that software’s capabilities.

It’s hard to talk about digital rentals without mentioning DRM. I don’t really see how to do a rental service without restrictions (DRM) on rented films. Therefore, I hope the DRM is similar to the current FairPlay restrictions especially with respect to the ability to play content on a number of “authorised” devices. I see DRM as more fair to the consumer on rented content, presuming its fairly flexible, as it is not controlling something supposedly bought to “own”.

All in all, offering rentals is a move I see as very positive. As I’ve described before, digital rentals offer benefits over a physical rental. They are convenient on the type of rainy nights when films appeal and very amenable to spur of the moment decisions. I think they will do well, and I look forward to being able to give Apple’s offering a try.

(And Amazon’s and others, should they be improved to work on a computer I own.)

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