It’s been almost two months since we reported that Apple is opening up iTunes for movie rentals. Today, if reports are true, we finally have good news that Apple and News Corp. have signed a deal that will allow consumers to rent the latest 20th Century Fox DVD releases by downloading a copy from iTunes.
The Financial Times reports that the Apple-Fox deal is likely to be announced at Macworld on January 14 and that discussions have been underway with Sony, Paramount, and Warner Bros, although it remains unclear whether deals with these studios will be complete in time for the big Apple show.
Disney is the only studio that sells new releases on iTunes, but these are not available for rent. Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Lionsgate sell older titles. Several Websites offer films to rent or buy, but none have the appeal or brand name of iTunes.
In addition to renting movies via iTunes, the FT notes that Apple is extending its FairPlay digital rights management platform beyond its own products. A FairPlay-protected file will be included in new Fox DVD releases, enabling people to move it to an iPod, iPhone, or (presumably) the AppleTV for mobile or living-room viewing.
Not much is known about renting movies from iTunes. TechCrunch speculates that movies will cost $2.99 to rent and will be available to play for an unspecified limited time.
The Silicon Alley Insider asks many of the same questions we have beyond rental cost: Can we convert a rental to a purchase if we decide later we want to own it? Will these downloads play on AppleTV? Will these be available for download via the iTunes Wi-Fi Store? Do rentals include HD content? How will Blockbuster, Amazon, Netflix, Sony and cable TV, teleco, and cellphone companies respond?
The FT rightly notes that a “new online video-on-demand service” is a “deal that could change the way people pay for online film content” and has the “potential to transform film distribution.”
No question about it. Granted, not all consumers are ready to rent movies via iTunes, or the Web for that matter. But technology relentlessly plods forward, and one day — in the not too distant future — the online video download world will be in sync with consumers and we’ll be off to the next great innovation.
My questions are: Who is brave enough to follow Fox’s lead? And has Fox (and/or other studios) cracked the pricing structure that Jobs has been so adamant about, at least when it comes to videos? Have the studios wrested some power back from Jobs, who many studio heads think has too much control over the pricing of music on iTunes?
Answers we’ll hopefully have soon.